Dave Wondrich on the Manhattan Cocktail Classic


The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, New York City's first ever multi-day event celebrating the history, contemporary culture, and artful craft of the cocktail will take place on October 3rd and 4th. Part festival, part fête, part conference, part cocktail party, the event brings together the unparalleled talents and opportunities of the bars, bartenders, and restaurants of our great city for two days of activities, both educational and celebratory in nature, championing the common ideals of authenticity, equality, sustainability, service, and pleasure. Laren Spirer spoke with cocktail historian Dave Wondrich to learn about what's in store for the event.

Laren Spirer: How did you get involved in the Manhattan Cocktail Classic?

Dave Wondrich: As soon as I heard about it, it was clear that it was something that I was interested in. This was back when Lesley, our fearless leader, floated the idea over a year ago. It sounded like fun and we had a "shoot-the-breeze" session about it and came up with some ideas for a title and so forth. We've been in the planning stage for a while so it's good to see it coming to fruition.

Why do you think the time was ripe to bring a cocktail event to New York?

Cocktails are huge right now. We're in a renaissance of this classic American art form, or craft anyway. New York has always been among the leaders in the cocktail revival and we have more new-style cocktail bars than anywhere on earth right now, and more people involved in it. It just seemed like a natural thing to do with all the home-grown talent we have here. It gives us something to do in all the months we're not in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail.

You're presenting a seminar on the "History of the Cocktail in New York, 1810-1920." Can you give us a quick taste of how that period influenced cocktails in New York today?

That period is sort of the birth of the cocktail, its growth through adolescence and first maturity. Then things sort of coasted and went sideways for a number of years. Now, so many of the new bars are looking back to that first age of the cocktail for inspiration, for recipes, for techniques, for the whole feel of their bars also. It really has come back and now it's like we finally appreciate it again and picked up where things left off at prohibition.

Is there a particular version of a drink from that era that is being made at a bar in NYC today that you'd recommend, so we can get ready for your seminar?

The Fifty-Fifty at Pegu Club. The name is modern, but the drink itself is the classic, 1910-era dry martini, which is half vermouth and half gin. It sounds horrible unless you've had it, and it's actually amazing.

Are you planning to develop a cocktail in honor of the weekend? If so, would you mind sharing the recipe?

I'm not personally going to do that because there are so many great cocktails that have been invented by my betters in the past that I'd rather just pick up one of their recipes and basically steal it. It's easier that way.

As this is a preview for the full-on event in May, do you have any thoughts on seminars you may put together for the spring?

I'm thinking about it now. I'd like to do something on the not-mixology part of bar history. Something on anecdotes and the way bartenders presented themselves and how customers behaved -- the whole culture of the bar. But it's one day at a time for me right now.

Have you had a drink in NYC recently that was particularly memorable?

I think of the New York Sour I had at Clover Club that was absolutely fabulous. But on the other hand "memorable" is a two-edged sword. At one of the new Brooklyn cocktail bars that shall remain nameless I had a rum cocktail that they forgot to put the rum in. That was memorable too, but not in the right way.

Get full details on each of the seminars at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic and then buy your tickets before they're all gone!

Photo by Gregg Glaser