Bicentennial, On the Rocks

Photo: Alyson Aliano

Get out your swizzle sticks: May 13 marks the 200th anniversary of the cocktail—or at least the first recorded mention of the word. And to celebrate, you can visit the Museum of the American Cocktail, the new New York satellite of a high-spirited institution that opened in New Orleans and currently resides in Las Vegas. This modest hub of cocktail geekiness—think musty books, vintage shakers, and witty tributes to barmen and saloons of yore—is ensconced on the second floor of Balance, a nightclub in Chelsea, and curated by cocktail historian David Wondrich, who took a break from his scholarly pursuits to enlighten us on the cocktail’s exalted past and promising future. (Visit for information.)

Does the cocktail really need a museum?
Yes! It’s the first culinary art that was truly American, and up until Prohibition, it was the one thing that European visitors—especially the more sporty ones—always commented on. It was truly a world-beating thing.

How does New York rank as a cocktail town?
Pretty good and getting better every month it seems.

What’s your favorite drink?
I like an old-fashioned with rye whiskey and no fruit, with just a lemon peel and no sugar.

What’s one cocktail you won’t drink?
I won’t drink an appletini, as it’s called, or even go near one.

The martini: Gin or vodka, shaken or stirred?
Gin, absolutely, and stirred.

Are you anti-vodka?
Pretty much. I think vodka is kind of like the boneless chicken breast of mixology.

Why do a lot of students of mixology like yourself look like contestants in a whisker-growing competition?
If you look at engravings of old bartenders, they let a pretty luxurious growth go, so it’s a gesture of solidarity, I suppose.

As a cocktail historian, do you spend more time reading or drinking?
Sadly, reading, though there is some tippling involved for sure.

Bicentennial, On the Rocks