D IS FOR DALE DEGROFF
By Matthew Latkiewicz
D is for Dale DeGroff and not just because of his sweet double D name. No, D is for Dale. Because without Dale, we might all still be drinking Appletinis and cocktails with names no adult should ever have to say. Things like Fuzzy Navel And Harvey Wallbanger.
Well, it seems that now, every single business in the world also offers a classic cocktail menu. It wasn’t that long ago that to most people, cocktail meant a sugary drink with alcohol that didn’t taste like alcohol. Americans may have invented the cocktail but by the 70’s and the 80’s we had forgotten how to drink them.
This is in large part thanks to prohibition, of course. That dark moment of forced national sobriety. During of which, our liquor industry was decimated. And many of our best bartenders left for boozier pastures. But even after prohibition was repealed, the quality of the booze and the bartenders wasn’t great. And so, drinks got simpler and sweeter.
Instead of using fresh juice, and complex ingredients (as the early cocktail inventors did) bartenders started offering up mixed drinks. Often in the form of a Highball, a spirit mixed with a soda of some type served in a tall glass. Rum and coke. Gin and tonic. Whiskey and soda. And while we may look back on the 50’s and 60’s as some golden age of drinking in this country, it definitely wasn’t a golden age for drinks themselves.
This is the era that turned the daiquiri into a blended drink. (Quick aside, I was actually going to do a daiquiri for D. But suffice it to say here, just look up the original recipe). Jim Meehan points out in his indispensable bartender’s guide, that the blender did as much hurt to the cocktail as ice did to help it, when emphasis on efficiency took over for emphasis on craft.
Dale DeGroff himself calls it the beginning of the Kool-Aide era of drink making. The rise of the mix. By the 70’s and 80’s, Vodka dominated the booze market. Brown spirits were essentially non-existent. And martini meant anything that went in a martini glass. Even if those things were cookies or whatever this juice is, which is what makes Dale DeGroff’s cocktail bar at The Rainbow Room in Manhattan in 1987 so important. The menu had 27 drinks, all made with fresh ingredients and calling on recipes basically forgotten since the 50’s. DeGroff’s mentor and boss restaurateur, Joe Baum, had introduced him to the old forgotten cocktail art, and DeGroff became essentially the first modern cocktail nerd – surfacing a lot of history
and teaching and training a whole generation of bar men and women, who created the magical drinking utopia that we live in today.
One of them, Jim Meehan (I would like to raise my glass to his book, Meehan’s Bartender Manual) provided much of the info for this article. And his New York City bar, PDT, is still one of the best in the world.
D is for Dale DeGroff.
Long live the king! Cheers!