Happy Hour History: The Bronx

Drink Features
Share Tweet Submit Pin

Forget mimosas — if you’re looking for a real brunch-time eye-opener, order a Bronx. This slightly sweet pre-Prohibition sipper is essentially a perfect martini with orange juice. But unlike, say, the Brass Monkey, this one won’t make you feel like a 14 year old raiding his parents’ liquor cabinet.

The accepted history of the Bronx begins in the Big Brass Rail bar inside New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1906. Like most stories involving alcohol, the cocktail was the result of a dare. Barman and possible Guys and Dolls character Johnnie Solon whipped it up after a customer challenged him to create a new cocktail on the fly.

Rising to the challenge, Solon decided to do a riff on the Duplex — a perfect martini with orange bitters — by swapping the bitters for orange juice, and reducing the vermouth ratios down to a splash each. The result, which he called a “Bronx” after the zoo he had visited the day before, was a hit. As juice-based cocktails rose in popularity during Prohibition, when they were used to mask the flavor of bootleg booze, the Bronx became a standout. By mid-century, however, the cocktail had mostly faded into obscurity as vodka supplanted gin as the clear spirit of choice.

Like all cocktails of a certain age, the Bronx’s origins are somewhat contested. Some evidence suggests it was the creation of Philadelphia bartender Joseph S. Sormani in 1905. Sormani’s New York Times obituary even credits him as the cocktail’s creator. The recipe cited, however, omits dry vermouth, which technically makes it an Orange Blossom.

Adding to the confusion, both Henry Craddock and William Boothby further cloud the history of the Bronx in their respective cocktail manuals. Craddock presents three different versions. Boothby, meanwhile, credits one Billy Malloy from Pittsburgh with a recipe that keeps the orange bitters and cuts the OJ down to just a spoonful.

The Bronx Recipe

Ingredients
2 oz. dry gin
1/4 oz. sweet vermouth
1/4 oz. dry vermouth
1 oz. orange juice*
(Variation: Drop an egg yolk into the shaker for a Golden Bronx.)

Directions: Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake for 10-20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail or coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

In theory, any orange juice will do, but I highly recommend fresh squeezed.

Enjoy while listening to this (NSFW):

Jim Sabataso is a writer, part-time bartender, and full-time cocktail enthusiast living in Vermont. Follow him on Twitter ">@JimSabataso

Recently in Drink