A BIT OF HISTORY
If not for a private suite at the Waldorf-Astoria and a vaudeville performer named Frank Fogarty, The Last Word may have faded into cocktail history.
The Last Word — a gin-based cocktail originating at the Detroit Athletic Club — is often considered a Prohibition era drink, but records show it predates the Volstead Act by at least two years. To get the full story, though, we have to go back even further.
The DAC was founded as a private club in 1887 on Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit, before moving to its current home on Madison Avenue in 1913. The iconic clubhouse, designed by Albert Kahn, was inspired by Rome’s Palazzo Farnese and has become one of the most recognizable buildings in the Detroit skyline. (It’s visible just beyond the center field fence at Comerica Park.)
Detroit has long played a key role in American transportation. Before the automobile, Detroit had been a hub for many of the railroad companies. Because of that, the city often found itself playing host to the country’s most powerful and influential businessmen. Thus the bar in particular became the centerpiece to the property.
FIRST MENTION OF THE LAST WORD
The first reference to the cocktail appears in a “souvenir menu” that was sent to each and every member with the 1916 Summer Issue of the DAC magazine. With a cover designed by famed artist, A. Duncan Carse, the menu included all of the culinary items available at the club as well as wines, drinks, and a long list of cigars.
In 1917, noted vaudeville monologist, Frank Fogarty, was passing through Detroit and found himself at the DAC bar one evening. Upon tasting The Last Word, he insisted on getting a copy of the recipe. When he returned home to New York he shared the drink with the bartenders at the Waldorf-Astoria, a spot he was known to frequent.
When Michigan went “dry” in 1918 (more than a year ahead of the infamous Volstead Act), the cocktail’s life was cut unceremoniously short. Unlike many of the country’s prestigious private clubs, the Detroit Athletic Club insisted on following the letter of the law. As the bartenders left in search of alternative employment, so went the cocktail list and all of the recipes.
THE DRINK DISAPPEARED FOR MANY DECADES
That is until author Ted Saucier (who spent four decades as publicist for the Waldorf-Astoria) made mention of it in his 1951 book, Bottoms Up. In it, he properly credits the DAC for the drink’s creation, as well as Fogarty for bringing the recipe east. But implied in his account is something that was long whispered about in certain circles: that the famed Waldorf-Astoria (originally located at 33rd and Fifth) fell on hard times throughout the Prohibition years, and had used some of their private suites as speakeasies to generate extra revenue. On the short list of available drinks… Fogarty’s favorite: The Last Word.
Without him… and without the illegal actions of a doomed hotel… this drink may have been lost forever.
After the publishing of Saucier’s book in 1951 the drink did receive a brief renaissance, but really it wouldn’t come into its own until 2003 when the recipe was rediscovered by renowned Seattle bartender, Murray Stenson. Soon thereafter it began to pop up on drink menus in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and eventually in 2009, back in Detroit at the DAC.
CONTEMPORARY AND CLASSIC
These days — with cocktail culture at an all-time high — it is now regularly called for at most respectable drinking establishments… including Gotham. Our cocktail list is designed to feature a combination of signature drinks as well as twists on the classics. The Last Word is the one exception; we have not altered the recipe in any way.
We invite you to come taste the classic that Fogarty brought to NYC more than 100 years ago.
* * * * *
THE LAST WORD
.75 oz PLYMOUTH GIN
.75 oz GREEN CHARTREUSE
.75 oz LUXARDO MARASCHINO LIQUEUR
.75 oz LIME JUICE
Shake all ingredients and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a brandied cherry.
* * * * *
This seductive drink gets its signature herbal bite from one of its key ingredients, Green Chartreuse. This unique French liqueur has been made by the Carthusian Monks since 1737 according to a specific set of instructions set out in a manuscript given to them by Maréchal d’Estrées in 1605. It is composed of distilled alcohol aged with 130 herbs, plants, and flowers. Originally the recipe was used to create an antidote to commonplace illnesses of the time. In doing so the monks inadvertently created a world class digestif.