Deep in the swelter of summer sixteen, the Waldorf Astoria released a book chronicling nearly every cocktail recipe ever used at the historic Manhattan institution’s old bar. The book, a gorgeous mid-century stunner, pairs each recipe with a story, resulting in a cookbook as readable as a novel.
It took the author and current bar manager Frank Caiafa three years to craft this old book update, working his way through The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book (1934) and Old Waldorf Bar Days (1931). These tomes derived from a leather-bound collection of handwritten recipes, a legendary relic that passed from bartender to publisher before going missing after Prohibition.
“Researching the recipes of the Old Books…was like listening to scratchy recordings on well-worn vinyl,” Caiafa writes in the book’s introduction.
Caiafa was brought on in 2005 to build out the first bar program in the hotel’s lobby since the original Waldorf-Astoria closed down in 1929 (to make way for the Empire State Building). The original building housed the Waldorf and Astor hotels, sister structures connected by a 300-foot marble corridor known as Peacock Alley.
When the new book was released in June, it wasn’t exactly the best time to hole up in a stuffy apartment to tinker with recipes. Now that going outside involves a parka and a pep talk, the time is finally ripe to dig in into this exhaustive project.
Despite the highfalutin language, this book breaks down complex pre-Prohibition cocktails into something New Yorkers can whip up at home. Don’t let the old-world language intimidate you: “We’re only serving drinks here,” Caiafa writes, following five paragraphs about the proper dimensions for a cocktail ice cube.
Chocolate (Flip Variation)
First found in print in 1895, this drink doesn’t actually contain any chocolate at all. If you don’t have these ingredients on hand, you can make a classic Flip by dry-shaking one whole egg with 1/2 ounce simple syrup, then shaking once more with ice and spirit of your choice. “I see no reason why [Flips] can’t become, at the very least, a more common dessert substitute during the colder months,” Caiafa writes, calling them “much lighter than cheesecake.”
1 1/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse
1 1/4 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1 egg yolk
Add all ingredients to mixing glass. Add ice and shake well. Fine-strain into small cocktail wineglass. No garnish.
“This charmingly enhanced whiskey sour was created to celebrate one of the hotel’s most notable past residents,” Caiafa writes. “It’s the top!” If you don’t have sherry, simply increase the whiskey by 1/2 ounce and the egg white by 1/4 ounce, and serve up for a classic whiskey sour.
1 1/2 ounce straight rye whiskey
1 ounce oloroso sherry
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/4 ounce egg white
Add all ingredients to mixing glass and dry-shake for five seconds. Add ice and shake for ten seconds. Fine-strain into Collins glass filled with fresh ice cubes. Garnish with orange peel and brandied cherry.
Dating back to 1600s England, Caiafa recommends milk punches of all kinds (they can also be made with whiskey or rum) to wow your guests during the holidays.
2 ounces Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac or Royer Force 53 VSOP cognac
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 ounce whole milk
Add all ingredients to mixing glass. Add ice and shake to integrate. Fine-strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with large ice cubes. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.