In 1885, in a rural patch of New York state called Tuxedo, just north of the border with New Jersey, a man named Pierre Lorillard decided to found a country club. He named it after the region, which had retained its Indian name; Etymonline and the Tuxedo Club’s own excellent history page agree that ‘Tuxedo’ probably derives from the Algonquian ‘p’tuck-sepo,’ or ‘crooked river.’ The club was a success, attracting the New York glitterati for its country pursuits and society dances, and in the year of its opening, 1886, the name went down in history for its association with a new, informal style of evening wear – the tail-less dinner jacket. Supposedly this rather avant-garde garment was brought back to New York by one James Brown Potter, who saw the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) wearing one on a visit to Sandringham; the ‘notoriously unchaste’ prince recommended his tailor to Potter while simultaneously trying to seduce his wife. The Wall Street Journal has the full story here, as well as one or two other versions. This casual outfit, which was easier to wear than the traditional tails, caused quite a scandal when it appeared. Etymonline (a gift of a website where you can look up the etymology of any word you like – I am eternally grateful to one of my sixth-form Latin students for recommending it to me) also presents us with the following delightful quotation from a contemporary clothing magazine:
There was a hue and cry raised against the Tuxedo coat upon its first appearance because it was erroneously considered and widely written of as intended to displace the swallow tail. When the true import of the tailless dress coat came to be realized it was accepted promptly by swelldom, and now is widely recognized as one of the staple adjuncts of the jeunesse dorée. [“Clothier and Furnisher,” August, 1889]
Yes, I’m sure we’re all grateful that swelldom realised the true import of the tailless dress coat. Also, please can we resurrect the word ‘swelldom?’
Anyway, I digress severely from the topic at hand, this delightful cocktail, the Tuxedo, which is essentially a jazzed up Martini. The relation of the cocktail to the club is unclear – Difford’s mentions that this recipe, featuring gin, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and absinthe, was adapted from Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual, which came out in 1882, before the club was founded. To complicate matters, you will also find another version of the Tuxedo floating around, which makes a more straightforward Martini variation by susbstituting the vermouth for fino sherry, with no maraschino and absinthe. Punch claims (citing cocktail historian David Wondrich) that this was the first Tuxedo to appear. In support of this, I have often seen the vermouth-maraschino-absinthe version referred to as the Tuxedo no.2, distinguishing it from the original. I’m left with no clear idea about what’s going on, so I’m making an executive decision in favour of the Tuxedo no.2 (mostly because I am very fond of maraschino).
1 oz Old Tom gin
1 oz dry vermouth
1/2 barspoon of maraschino liqueur
1/4 barspoon of absinthe
3 dashes orange bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass over ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Alternatively, since the absinthe tends to dominate, you can do an absinthe rinse in the cocktail glass and then discard before pouring in the rest of the ingredients. Garnish with a twist of lemon and/or a maraschino cherry.
As you’d expect from the use of the Old Tom and the maraschino, this tastes like a somewhat sweeter, more complex Martini, with the maraschino lending an intriguing almondy depth to the drink. The absinthe does rise above the other ingredients to a certain extent, so I think next time I would go for the rinse rather than adding it into the mix. For reference, I’ll also give the recipe for the original Tuxedo with sherry:
2 oz dry gin
1 oz fino sherry
1 dash orange bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass over ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.
This is a much closer Martini cousin, just somewhat nuttier and ever so slightly sweeter. I prefer the Tuxedo no.2, but let me know which one you like!