Front Range bartenders resurrect classic cocktails.
If the old-fashioneds that Don Draper swills on Mad Men and the reintroduction of old liquors like absinthe to the U.S. market are any indication, vintage cocktails are on the comeback. Along the Front Range, mixologists like Sean Kenyon, bar manager at Steuben's, and Bryan Dayton, bar manager at Frasca Food and Wine, are filling their cocktail menus with old-school drinks such as the Clover Club and the Moscow Mule. "There are a lot of hungry bartenders out there with a need and want for mixology to be great," says Dayton. "There is a source of pride with looking back to old times."
Those old times, specifically, go back to the pre-Prohibition era. During Prohibition, drinks were diluted with water, juice—just about anything—to cover up the raw flavors of moonshine and bathtub gin. Along the way, old-time cocktails (made simply with a base spirit, a sweetening agent like bitters, and a citrus element) were discarded and generations missed out on classic drinks like the Aviation.
In looking back, however, these present-day bartenders are also breaking new ground, crafting cocktails that pay an epicurean homage to drink history. To wit: Kenyon's Figgy's Manhattan is made with Colorado's Stranahan's whiskey that is infused with mission figs and served in a glass rimmed with crystallized maple sugar. It's got all the elements of the Manhattan, but the remake is giving the original a run for its money.
Recipes from Local Mixologists
Created in 1859 in New Orleans, the Sazerac was promoted as a way for apothecary Antoine Peychaud to sell his bitters. The drink owes its name to its original main ingredient, Sazerac de Forge et Fils cognac. Over time, the Big Easy's bartenders replaced the cognac with rye whiskey and created an American original.
2 oz rye whiskey
3 dashes Peychaud's
splash of absinthe
1 sugar cube
Sean Kenyon at Steuben's, 523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001
After spending time gambling in New York and traveling across the American West, Italian Count Camillo Negroni returned home with a hankering for Americanos (a cocktail made with Campari and vermouth). He asked a Florentine bartender to re-create the mix but also to add gin, giving birth to the Negroni.
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
2 oz gin
Bryan Dayton at Frasca Food and Wine, 1738 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-6966
The original Daiquiri—an Ernest Hemingway favorite—bears little resemblance to its cloyingly sweet strawberry tourist cousin. The story goes that during a 1905 party in Cuba for some Americans, the host ran out of gin. To soften the rather potent local rum, he added sugar and lime.
2 oz white rum
1 oz fresh lime juice
0.5 oz simple syrup
Michael Pacheco at Churchill Bar in the Brown Palace Hotel, 321 17th St., 303-297-3111
An infant compared to the rest of the century-old libations on this list, this drink was created in the 1960s and named after a California surfer (Harvey) who would drink so much Galliano—he swore that women liked the empty bottles—that he would bang into the walls on his way out of the bar.
2 oz vodka
0.5 oz Galliano
1 oz orange juice
Krista Reckner-Spencer at Beatrice & Woodsley, 38 S. Broadway, 303-777-3505
Legend has it that American-born socialite Jennie Jerome Churchill anointed this cocktail the "Manhattan" after requesting a special drink for a party at the Manhattan Club. It was most likely a myth, as Jennie was probably in England at the time for the christening of her son, Winston. Yup, that Winston Churchill.
1.25 oz bourbon
0.5 oz sweet vermouth
dash Angostura bitters
Lisa Johnson at the Cruise Room, 1600 17th St., 303-825-1107