Monday, February 01, 2010

In Praise of the Sidecar, Part 2

Sidecar on the menu at McCormick & SchmickAlmost exactly two years ago in this blog, I wrote a paean to my favorite cocktail, the sidecar. I promised I would get to history (the sidecar's and mine) eventually. . . . In January I had a wonderful elderflower sidecar at McCormick & Schmick's in Boston which prompted me to get back to the rest of the story.

Generally accepted bartending lore assigns the origin of the drink to a time period near the end of World War I. The place was either London or Paris, and the inventor was an American Army captain who was driven to and from his local watering hole in the sidecar of a motorcycle. The drink was first mentioned in a bartender's guide in 1922, and 1934 was the first recorded recipe with a sugared rim (my preferred presentation).

Elizabeth Bowen, in The Death of the Heart (published in 1938), offers the cocktail to one of her characters:

Indoors, among the mirrors and pillars, they found Mr. Bursely and Daphne, cozy over a drink. Reproaches and rather snooty laughs were exchanged, then Mr. Bursely, summoning the waiter, did what was right by everyone. Clara and Portia were given orangeade, with hygienic straws twisted up in paper; Daphne had another bronx, Evelyn a side-car. The men drank whisky. . .

The cocktail was popular through the sixties, but faded in the seventies and eighties. Karen Kijewski, in her mystery novel Katwalk, published in 1989, laments their demise:

"Hey, Kat." I turned. "What's in a sidecar?"
"Huh? Oh. Brandy, Triple Sec, sweet and sour and lime--with a sugar rim and a cherry. Nobody drinks them anymore."
He grinned and waved and I waved back, at him and at the memories.

But by the 90s, cocktails in general were coming back in style; an article in the Boston Globe in 1994 describes the scene at a local lounge:

At the bar, the young couple put down their drinks--he with a cubana (sugar syrup, lime juice, aproct brandy, rum), she with a sidecar (Cointreau, lemon juice, brandy)--and step out on the floor to tango.

Another Globe article, six years later, is titled: "Sidecar cocktail rides again." A 2004 Boston Herald headline boasts that the "Sidecar takes back seat to no other cocktail."

Sidecar in New York Times crossword puzzle
And the cocktail was sufficiently mainstream to appear in a NY Times crossword in 2007.

I have been faithful to the sidecar since 1966, and in a future post I'll talk a bit about my history with the drink.

In the meantime, you can watch this video of Rachel Maddow shaking up a sidecar in a New York bar.