Friday, February 11, 2011

Ramos Gin Fizz

Ramos Gin Fizz
Muriel's, $8

New Orleans was the birthplace of the cocktail and over the years many concoctions have been heralded as the city's favorite. In 2008 the debate was silenced when the "Save the Sazerac" campaign succeeded in having the rye-and-bitters mixture invented in 1795 by Frenchman Antoine Amedee Peychaud named as New Orleans' "official" cocktail.

Well, hmph, I say: that just leaves more Ramos Gin Fizzes for me. My own new "official" cocktail is another New Orleans classic; a venerable and time-consuming froth that tastes delightfully like someone spilled gin on an uncooked meringue. Here's how the Museum of the American Cocktail tells its story:

"Around 1880 bartender Henry C. Ramos developed the drink in the Imperial Cabinet Saloon at Gravier and Carondelet Streets. He took it with him when he purchased The Stag saloon further down Gravier Street. 'It's like drinking a flower,' one poet eulogized. Properly prepared, each drink was shaken for five minutes, or, 'until your hand freezes to the shaker.' Ramos employed 'shaker boys,' (as many as 35, it is said during Mardi Gras season of 1915) who did nothing but shake fizzes."

The story provides a fascinating glimpse into the economy and society of a heavy-drinking culture. Bars were lucrative and strongly competitive; it's hard to judge how much of mythology of mixology was fact and how much was hype. Was the 5-minute shake for real? Or an exaggeration calculated to add glamor or justify prices? Cocktails were a kind of magic--particularly when the recipe for a popular drink like the Ramos was considered by most to be a guarded secret. It's interesting to imagine the reverberations when one of the bartenders who had previously worked with Ramos defected to the St. Charles Hotel...and had the Ramos Gin Fizz recipe printed on the back of his new business cards:

How to Prepare This Famous Gin Fizz:
2 Teaspoonsfull of Sugar
4 Drops of Orange Flower Water
1 Teaspoonfull Lime Juice
1 1/2 ounce of Good Gin
Crushed Ice
Small dash of Sparkling Water
White of 1 Egg
1 1/2 ounce of Sweet Milk
Shake well for half minute
Serve in thin glass.

According to the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Ramos also had friends in high--and distant--places:

"By the time the Ramos Gin Fizz was the favorite drink of 'Kingfish' Huey Long, governor--and later U.S. Senator for Louisiana, the drink had made the move to the Roosevelt Hotel. In 1935, Long transported the Roosevelt bartender, Sam Guarino along with him to New York City to ensure the drink was authentic. Huey insisted on personal quality control measures. 'I'm merely sampling this to make sure you gentlemen are getting the real thing.' After sampling five of them, Huey proclaimed, 'And this is, gentlemen, my gift to New York.' He dragged Guarino with him to Washington so, likewise, he could have an uninterrupted flow of New Orleans fizzes. In historian Shelby Foote's words, 'The whole Congress cheered him for that.'"

801 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA

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