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Bronx, Swank Cocktail #21

🏠 » Cocktails » Swank Cocktail Guide: 80 cocktails in 80 days

The Bronx cocktail
The Bronx cocktail

The Bronx is cocktail number 21 on the Swank Cocktail Guide.

Bronx cocktail history

The Bronx Cocktail dates back to about the turn of the 19th century; two versions of the Bronx Cocktail recipe were published by Ryan’s Liquor Shop, Bottoms Up, Ryan’s Guide to Pleasant Drinking, in 1900, the typical version and a dry version omitting the sweet (Italian) Vermouth).

So, who created the cocktail? That’s where things get a bit fuzzy. Multiple people claim to have originated the cocktail. The earliest attribution (and closest to the date believed for the cocktail’s conception), was in 1901, when a syndicated newspaper article appeared stating “…J. E. O’Connor of the Waldorf-Astoria, inventor of the ‘Bronx Cocktail…”

Ryans’ Liquor Shop, Bottoms Up, Ryan’s Guide to Pleasant Drinking (New York : 1900), p. 15, Bronx Cocktails.
Ryans’ Liquor Shop, Bottoms Up, Ryan’s Guide to Pleasant Drinking (New York : 1900), p. 15, Bronx Cocktails.
“Carrie Nation Cocktail,” newspaper article, The Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), 6 Feb 1901, p. 2, col. 4.
“Carrie Nation Cocktail,” newspaper article, The Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), 6 Feb 1901, p. 2, col. 4.

John E. “Curley” O’Connor

The original Waldorf Hotel opened at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street in New York City on 13 March 1893 and the Astoria Hotel opened in 1897 next to the Waldorf on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. In 1929, the Waldorf–Astoria was razed and the Empire State Building now stands on the site of the former hotels. The current Waldorf Astoria New York was built on Park Avenue in 1931.

John “Curley” O’Connor began working as a bartender at the Waldorf Hotel in 1893 at the age of 23.

Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York Octagon Room, 1893, public domain
Waldorf Hotel, New York Octagon Room, 1893, public domain image

In 1934, Vanity Fair Magazine included O’Connor in their list of New York’s best-known bartenders stating, “Curly O’Connor, bartender at the original Waldorf 47 years ago, now presides at the new Waldorf Bar.”

O’Connor worked at the Waldorf-Astoria for 45 years, retiring as head barman in 1939.

John “Curley” O’Connor died in 1941 at the age of 70.

“Veteran Barman Dies,” John “Curley” O’Connor obituary, Asbury Park Press (Asbury Park, New Jersey), 9 Nov 1941, p. 2, col. 5.
“Veteran Barman Dies,” John “Curley” O’Connor obituary, Asbury Park Press (Asbury Park, New Jersey), 9 Nov 1941, p. 2, col. 5.
Vanity Fair, Gentlemen of the Bar, June 1934, Curly O’Conor, Waldorf-Astoria.
Vanity Fair, Gentlemen of the Bar, June 1934, Curly O’Connor, Waldorf-Astoria.

Johnnie Solon (or Solan)

Albert Stevens Crockett’s Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book, published in 1934, included four versions of the Bronx Cocktail and details how the Bronx cocktail came about, listing Johnnie Solon (or Solan) as the creator on pages 40-42.

The story begins with Johnnie Solon’s account of the inspiration for creating the Bronx cocktail:

Many claimants to the honor of inventing the Bronx have arisen. It was an Old Waldorf tradition that the inventor was Johnnie Solon (or Solan), popular as one of the best mixers behind its bar counter for most of the latter’s history. This is Solon’s own story of the Creation– of the Bronx:

“We had a cocktail in those days called the Duplex, which had a pretty fair demand. One day, I was making one for a customer when in came Traverson, head waiter of the Empire Room–the main dining room of the original Waldorf. A Duplex was composed of equal parts of French and Italian Vermouth, shaken up with squeezed orange peel, or two dashes of Orange Bitters. Taverson said, ‘Why don’t you get up a new cocktail? I have a customer who says you can’t do it.’
‘Can’t I?’ I replied.

The tale continues with Solon’s account of how he created the mixture and named the beverage:

The name? No, it wasn’t really named directly after the borough or the river so-called. I had been to the Bronx Zoo a day or two before, and I saw, of course, a lot of beasts I have never known. Customers used to tell me of the strange animals they saw after a lot of mixed drinks. So when Traverson said to me, ‘What’l I tell him is the name of this drink?’ I thought of those animals, and said: “Oh, you can tell him it is a “Bronx.”

The story is also featured in Albert Stevens Crockett’s earlier book, Old Waldorf Bar Days, published in 1931, which included an entire section on the bartender, “Solon at the Bar” (pages 76-82). In the section, Crockett tells of Solon’s beginning at the Waldorf in 1899 and even details his genealogy.

So, we have two bartenders, John “Curley” O’Connor and Johnnie Solon, both of whom were working at the Waldorf at the time the drink appears to have been created around 1899-1900, one (O’Connor) who, in 1901, was credited with creating the cocktail, and the other (Solon) credited in the 1930s with it’s creation – and both men were still working for the Waldorf-Astoria at the time of the 1931 and 1934 writings.

But then, there’s the Philadelphia version…

Joseph Sormani

Magnus Bredenbek’s 1934 book, What Shall We Drink?, lists three variations of the Bronx Cocktail on page 13-14 and states that the cocktail was invented in Philadelphia, where it was discovered in 1905 byJoseph Sormani, a Bronx restauranteur.

Sormani’s 1947 obituary states he was the originator or the cocktail.

“Bronx-Cocktail Originator Dies,” Joseph S. Sormani death notice, The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 15 Aug 1947, p. 25, col. 5.
“Bronx-Cocktail Originator Dies,” Joseph S. Sormani death notice, The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 15 Aug 1947, p. 25, col. 5.

Bronx cocktail recipe

Bronx cocktail recipe
Bronx cocktail recipe

1/2 Dry Gin, 1/4 Dry Vermouth, 1/4 Sweet Vermouth, Juice of 1/4 Orange. Stir well with ice and strain.

Ingredients used:

  • Hendrick’s Gin
  • Dolin Dry Vermouth
  • Gallo Sweet Vermouth
  • Fresh-squeezed orange juice

Bronx cocktail review

Our ratings (1-5 🍸) Rating scale

Greg: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸
Kim: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

A refreshing, bright cocktail – we both are big fans of the Bronx.

Next up… Cocktail #22, Champagne Cocktail

Swank Cocktail Guide: 80 cocktails in 80 days

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