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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 22, 2014

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In Bars & Clubs

The brandy old fashioned.

Comet Cafe revives the spirit of classic cocktails


"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun bars and club articles -- including guides, bartender profiles, drink recipes and even a little Brew City bar history. Cheers!

Nutritionists and dietary analysts are directing the masses back to basic foods -- those that need to be peeled, chopped or juiced. Should the same rules apply for the alcohol we consume?

When selecting your drink of choice at bars today, the vodkas are endless, the colors are neon and the shots involving Red Bull are growing exponentially. Two hundred years ago, there was no such thing as a Jager bomb.

A snapshot of drinks at a mid-19th century saloon might include punches and toddies, but not the multi-ingredient concoctions we consume today. Mixed drinks in America were nothing more than basic liquors -- whiskey, brandy or gin -- sweetened with a little sugar.

Even as little as 50 years ago, a martini wasn't raspberry flavored vodka in a gigantic sugar-rimmed glass drizzled with chocolate sauce. It was a no-nonsense combination of five parts gin to one part vermouth with either a lemon twist or an olive, and that was that.

When it came to cocktails, our grandparents didn't mess around with filler. The classic cocktails of their heyday -- "old man drinks," as they're now affectionately called -- were usually booze mixed with other booze and garnished with a specific piece of fruit. They were simple, efficient and definitely got the job done.

As clubs compete for the most extensive martini menus in town, leave it to a place that prides itself on its beloved meatloaf entree to kick life back into classic cocktails. Every Tuesday at Comet Café, 1947 N. Farwell Ave., bartender Nick Westfahl, aka Dr. Nick, mixes specially priced "old man drinks" from 6:30 p.m. until his muddling hand must rest for the night.

Comet co-owner and executive chef Adam Lucks calls Westfahl a "true mixologist.

"He does a lot of research and is always finding new drinks to make," says Lucks. "He even brings his own muddler from home."

The specials board offers the choice of Manhattans, old-fashioneds, sloe gin fizzes, Rob Roys, sidecars, Tom Collins and Harvey Wallbangers. Those are the most traditional, but if you're looking to sip on something slightly more obscure like a South Hampton -- tonic, bitters and lime -- just put in your request. Chances are, Westfahl will know how to make it.

Lucks says the classic cocktail night at Comet was a perfect fit, "playing into the old school, roadside diner thing we've got going on here." Plus, he says, it's better than doing a rail liquor special that attracts the I-just-want-to-drink-cheap-booze people to the bar.

Classic cocktails, according to David A. Embury, author of "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks," should be made from good quality, high-proof liquors. In his book dedicated to the original cocktails, he goes on to say the drink should "whet rather than dull the appetite," should never be too sweet or syrupy, but rather dry with sufficient alcohol flavor, should be pleasing to the eye and, of course, should always be well iced.

Embury points to six basic drinks:

  • The martini
  • The Manhattan
  • The old-fashioned
  • The daiquiri
  • The sidecar
  • The Jack Rose

"These are the classic drinks of a 1950s cocktail party," says Lucks. "If you go to my grandfather's house, he's got all the ingredients for these drinks on hand."

The martini
2 1/2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
Preparation: Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, twist lemon peel over the top and serve garnished with an olive.

The Manhattan
2 oz. straight rye or bourbon
1 oz. sweet vermouth
Dash of Angostura bitters
1 maraschino cherry
Preparation: Stir over ice, strain into a chilled glass, garnish, and serve straight up.

The old-fashioned
2 oz. bourbon, Scotch or rye whiskey
1 sugar cube
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 splash soda Water
Preparation: Place sugar cube in old-fashioned glass and saturate with bitters, add a dash of soda water. Muddle until dissolved. Fill the glass with ice cubes and add whiskey. Garnish with orange slice, lemon twist and two maraschino cherries.

The daiquiri
2 oz. light rum
1 oz. lime juice
1/2 t sugar
Preparation: Shake with finely crushed ice and strain well into a chilled cocktail glass.

The sidecar
1 oz. Cointreau or triple sec
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. cognac or Armagnac
Preparation: Shake vigorously with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon if desired.

The Jack Rose
2 oz. Applejack(r) brandy
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. grenadine syrup
Preparation: Shake vigorously with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon, if desired.


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