We’re kicking off a new program at West Main that will highlight historically significant cocktail books, bartenders, and beverages, and the debut special honors the lesser-sung twentieth century cocktail hero Hugo Ensslin. Published in 1917, Hugo Ensslin’s book Recipes for Mixed Drinks is an invaluable time capsule containing important information about what Americans were drinking on the eve of Prohibition. Ensslin’s low historical profile is partially due to his low key presence in New York, where he worked as a bartender at the Wallick Hotel but seldom drew press headlines, unlike much better known contemporaries like George Kappeler. But nearly all of the 400-plus cocktails in the book are Ensslin’s own versions—a relatively rare occurrence for Golden Age publications—and many of his recipes were later cribbed by well known authors without giving him credit. Including one-of-a-kind cocktails such as the Aviation and the Chrysanthemum, Ensslin’s self-published Recipes is now recognized as one of the most important cocktail books of the twentieth century.
To honor Hugo Ensslin’s book, we’re featuring a special cocktail flight of three drinks that are, like their creator and his book, less well known, maybe more difficult to find, but certainly worthy of remembrance. These cocktails are the Corronation, with maraschino, picon, Oloroso sherry, and dry vermouth; the Hugo Bracer, with grenadine, lime juice, picon, and Laird’s apple brandy; and the Honolulu—or, for us, something like an ‘Improved Honolulu’—with Castle & Key’s London Dry Gin, maraschino, Benedictine, two dashes of orange bitters, and two dashes of absinthe. The flight is available all week, though its drinks and many others from Ensslin’s book are always available upon request.