The longtime barkeep extraordinaire recently helped the downtown property celebrate its centennial by showcasing cocktails popularized throughout the 20th century.
According to Nelms, long-forgotten spirits are once again in vogue, not just at the hotel’s swanky piano bar where she works, but as a general beverage trend. She said the holidays offer the perfect chance to stir up a lot of spirit for office parties and family occasions.
“Cocktails are super popular,” said Nelms. “Some you can’t find [mixed] anywhere else [except in a bar].”
The holidays provide countless occasions to entertain. Sipping on distinctive cocktails makes for a unique — as well as pleasurable — experience for most guests. The Barbary Coast, old fashioned, Moscow mule and sidecar are just a few resurrected drinks. Other more modern tastes might be a tequila sunrise, Black Russian or golden Cadillac.
right, Amy Nelms of Red Piano Lounge shows us the Poinsettia and an old fashioned.
Inspired bartenders such as Nelms also craft flavored vodkas into signature house specialties. At the Skirvin, for example, an ornate vessel containing the hotel’s own house-infused vodka sits unobtrusively on the bar counter. At first glance, the mostly clear liquid looks harmless. Upon closer observation, you’ll see the hot and spicy peppercorns dancing on the bottom of the carafe.
Most people, however, prefer the security of classic beverages. The late 1940s brought the Negroni. One of the earliest reports about this drink, made with gin, Campari and vermouth, came from Orson Welles while working in Rome. “The bitters are excellent for your liver; the gin is bad for you,” said the filmmaker. “They balance each other.”
The brandy ice, made with brandy, crème de cacao and vanilla ice cream, is another favorite. It is rumored to have been invented by former Skirvin owner Dan James. The red carpet also arrived around this time. It contains vodka, cranberry and lime juices. Perhaps this can be considered a precursor to the ever-popular Cosmopolitan?
“This all has to do with the old, classic style,” Nelms said.
Amy Nelm’s Vintage Holiday Cocktail Menu
½ ounce Cointreau or triple sec
3 ounces cranberry juice
Chill all of the ingredients beforehand. Pour the Cointreau and cranberry juice into a chilled champagne flute. Stir well.
2 ½ ounces whiskey
5 dashes angostura bitters
orange slice, cherries
2 teaspoons simple sugar
Muddle to perfection.
Mint Chocolate-Chip Martini
1 ounce vodka
½ ounce white crème de menthe
½ ounce white crème de cacao
Pour ingredients into shaker filled with ice. Pour into chilled martini glass.
Garnish with chocolate stick and mint sprig.
Photo by Shannon Cornman