The Swedish - Cuban Connection

14 Mar. 2017
Where Paris meets Cuba and Sweden by way of Austria

We all thought we’d soon be able to have Colin Field make us a drink at the Ritz’s Hemingway Bar. But the news broke on Tuesday that the hotel was on fire! Hopefully, the damages don't seem too big and next March’s planned reopening won’t have to be pushed back. This event, though, led us to think about the Ritz’s American Bar a long, long time ago. When, to be precise, Frank Meier was at the helm.
Meier, an Austrian, joined the Ritz in 1921, when it first opened. He was a renowned bartender who had worked at some of the most prestigious bars in New York before prohibition. By hiring him, the management let its intention clear: make of their American Bar one of the cocktails hotspots in a city that couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Meier was distinctly old-fashioned and perfectly suited to manage a man-only bar where only the richest tourists and most influential locals could hope to drink.
But now is not the time to write at length about the great man’s career. What we’d like to talk about is a Cuban connection . And no, we do not mean Hemingway, who loved this bar and claimed to have “liberated” it when the Nazis were finally kicked out. What we have in mind is a recipe from his seminal 1936 ‘The Artistry of Mixing Drinks’. Printed in a very small run, it only went to his best clients and has become extremely valuable – not only in monetary terms, but as an incredible snapshot of what drinking was like back in the day.
Meier, like many of his contemporaries, had discovered – and included in his repertoire – Cuban drinks. But he also had started to play with Cuban rum, the ‘new’ ingredient at the heart of said drinks. After all, European bartenders of the 20’s and 30’s were open to experimentation… So Frank introduced the Temptation, a mixture of Cuban rum, lemon juice and Anis Pernod (he loved Pernod), while the Pipe Line substituted Apricot Brandy for the Pernod. This was all rather pedestrian, though.
The Doctor Cocktail is much more intriguing. Some of you might have heard about its later, tiki version. Others might have found an earlier version, lacking rum. This 1936 Doctor Cocktail mixes lemon juice and orange juice (you can use lime instead), Cuban rum and… Swedish Punch.
Swedish Punch? Yes, an ingredient that used to be pretty common and has almost disappeared now. This variant of traditional punch was made with arrack or rum, sugar, water and other ingredients such as citrus, spices or tea. Its popularity was such that towards the end of the 19th century, bottled versions were commercialized… and some bartenders started playing with it. It of course works wonderfully with rum, adding both depth and sweetness to your cocktail.
What is then the Doctor Cocktail, as per Frank Meier’s book? Where Paris meets Cuba and Sweden by way of Austria. In a word (and what a word!): Fusion. Cantineros, play with the Doctor formula. Maybe it will help you instilling a bit of Cuba into your own, local tradition. Let us know how it goes, OK?

François Monti