Shaking up an old manual

Mr Frank Caiafa with several cocktails at the Waldorf Astoria Peacock Alley bar in New York.
Mr Frank Caiafa with several cocktails at the Waldorf Astoria Peacock Alley bar in New York.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • Way, way back in the pioneer days of the cocktail renaissance - say, 2003 or thereabouts - questing mixologists and curious enthusiasts did not have many drink manuals to lean on.

Out-of-print bartending texts of the 19th century were treasures that were hard to find and publishing houses such as Mud Puddle Books had not yet begun to reprint the old volumes.

The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book was one of the few texts that remained in print and could be found at a local bookstore. First published in 1934, it contained hundreds of recipes from the original hotel on Fifth Avenue, which had been torn down a few years earlier to make way for the Empire State Building.

"The value of the original book was that it was a great snapshot of the cocktails that existed right before Prohibition began" in 1920, said Mr Robert Hess, an authority on the recent cocktail movement.

It took more than 80 years, but the ancient compendium has been given a makeover.

The updated version, which Penguin Random House will release on May 17 (dropping the Old and the hyphen from the title), was the idea of Mr Frank Caiafa, manager of the hotel's Peacock Alley bar.



    2ounces OldTomgin, preferably
    Ransomor Greenhook Ginsmiths
    1 ounce sweet vermouth, preferably
    3/4 ounce Noilly Prat Extra-dry
    1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur,
    preferably Luxardo
    1 dash Angostura bitters
    1 dash orange bitters, preferably
    Regans’Lemon twist, for garnish


    1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing
    glass three-quarters filled with ice.
    2. Stir until chilled, about30seconds.
    3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
    4. Garnish with lemon twist.

    Serves one

    (Adapted from Frank Caiafa, Peacock

He was aware of the legacy of the original manual and of its predecessor, Old Waldorf Bar Days (1931), both written by Albert Stevens Crockett, a newspaper columnist and sometime publicist for the hotel.

When Mr Caiafa, 49, suggested bringing the books into the modern era, his boss bit. That was in 2010. He then spent two years researching the history of the cocktails and another three testing the many recipes.

"It was strange the rabbit holes you would go down," the born-and-bred New Yorker with the bulky build and soft, sandpaper voice of a 1940s film barkeeper said.

"Some of the drinks that, on paper, I'd think, 'Oh, this will be a breeze. I'll be onto the next recipe by the end of the night.' I wouldn't be onto the next recipe for days."

Besides the two Crockett books, he drew on three other related volumes: Drinks (1914) by Jacques Straub, a Swiss-born bartender who was a friend of Oscar Tschirky, the Waldorf's famed headwaiter; Bottoms Up (1951) by Ted Saucier, who was publicity director for the Waldorf in the 1930s and 1940s; and Tschirky's own 100 Famous Cocktails (1934).

Mr Caiafa tweaked and updated most of Crockett's recipes to suit the modern palate.

In his introduction, he compares the old versions to "scratchy recordings on well-worn vinyl". And he likens himself to a "modern audio engineer brought in to master old recordings". NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'Shaking up an old manual'. Print Edition | Subscribe