What is modern? In 1979, when I graduated from high school, it was calculators and stereos that let you thread a stack of LPs onto a little thingamajig that held them precariously above the turntable, dropping them down to play one by one. The latest thing in cars was the Datsun 280Z, and to be truly styling when you drove, you needed to be wearing a burgundy turtleneck with a short gold zipper on the front. And it had to be open, to display the band of puka shells around your neck. In 1961, when I was born, cars still had fins, women wore pillbox hats and the Princess phone—the latest in home electronics—still had a dial.
Time has a way of mocking us all, of making our attempts at the new seem futile and, worse, silly. But there are always a few things that come across fresh and, yes, modern, no matter how old they are. Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses, Bugs Bunny cartoons, the music of Charlie Parker—these know no age. The first Dry Martini might have been stirred up in the 1880s or early 1890s, but a sip of one conveys the shock of the new as well as anything in which Lady Gaga cocoons herself.
Of course, there are other drinks that have achieved escape velocity from the orbit of their times. Most of those are sleek, simple and unencumbered with the kind of eccentricity that anchors things to an era and place. The Modern Cocktail, however, is, despite its name, not one of them.
Invented in the first decade of the twentieth century by Charlie Mahoney, head bartender at New York’s famed Hoffman House hotel on Madison Square, the Modern combines the two trendiest ingredients of the period: Scotch whisky and sloe gin. You wouldn’t think the pairing would work, yet it does, in the same way that streetcars and heavy, silver-cased pocketwatches worked. Good enough for me.
Add the lemon juice and sugar to a shaker and stir.
Add the remaining ingredients and fill with ice.
Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a maraschino cherry if you like.