October 23: The Knickerbocker Opens

KnickerbockerIt was on this day in 1906 that John Jacob Astor opened his New York hotel the Knickerbocker. Located at the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street, in the heart of Times Square, the Knickerbocker was the height of New York luxury, with elegant rooms and a three story dining room and bar. It’s hard to believe it was only open for 15 years!

Although it had a short life span, the hotel managed to acquire quite the reputation. Broadway composer George M. Cohan and legendary opera singer Enrico Caruso maintained residences at the Knickerbocker. In fact, on Armistice Day, Caruso opened his windows and led the Time Square crowd in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” There’s also an urban legend that claims the Martini was invented at the Knickerbocker’s bar by a bartender seeking to impress Astor. That rumor is untrue, as there are references to the Martini that predate the Knickerbocker’s opening and Astor was a teetotaler.

Unfortunately, a few major incidents would cut the Knickerbocker’s life short. In 1912, Astor went down with the Titanic, leaving the hotel to his son Vincent. In 1920, James B. Regan, the man who ran the hotel’s restaurant, retired and the place just wasn’t the same. Oh, and of course, the dawn of Prohibition shuttered the Knickerbocker’s bar. So, in 1921 Vincent Astor closed the hotel and had it turned into an office building. For 19 years (from 1940 to 1959), the former Knickebocker would house the offices of Newsweek. The former Knickerbocker would later serve as an apartment complex, and there are currently plans to once again turn the building into a luxury hotel.

Of course the Knickerbocker had an eponymous house cocktail. It came in both a male and female version, but today we’re only going to mix the Knickerbocker a la Monsieur, because the Knickerbocker a la Madame sadly isn’t that good. Interestingly, this drink didn’t actually originate at the Knickerbocker. It was created by famed bartender Jerry Thomas back in 1862, and both the his and hers versions appeared in 1868’s early bartending book Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks by William Terrington. So, this drink actually predates the opening of the Knickerbocker by over 40 years! Anyway, it’s a deliciously sweet little number that is perfect for everybody, not just the messieurs.

Knickerbocker a la Monsieur

  • 2 ounces Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Orange Curacao
  • 1/2 ounce raspberry syryp
  • 1 ounce lemon juice

Por all ingredients over crushed ice in a goblet or tumbler and stir. Garnish with an orange slice and a pineapple slice.

Tomorrow: The world’s oldest football club.

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