My Old Pal: Bringing Back a Prohibition Era Whiskey Cocktail

The tale of Old Pal is laced with mysteries and contradictions, much like the celebrities of the era that its creator played host to. Between the two great wars when America was dying of thirst, Prohibition was driving the likes of Coco Chanel and Ernest Hemingway back into the arms of Paris where people could still get a drink and talk about great things. In the midst of this all, Harry MacElhone, the Irish New Yorker began making his fortune, tending the New York Bar in the French capital.

A haven for expats, the New York Bar was a regular haunt for William ‘Sparrow’ Robertson – a prodigious drinker and a sports writer working out of the New York Herald-Tribune’s Paris office. According to Harry, during the course of a conversation, Sparrow spoke of a drink he invented when he “fired the pistol the first time at the old Powderhall foot races”.

The diligent Harry noted down the formula, publishing it for the first time in his book ABC of Mixing Cocktails. The recipe has gone through many iterations and evolutions, switching dry vermouth for sweet and Canadian rye for bourbon. Dry, light, with a mild peppery finish, you can mix your own Old Pal without much fuss.

Mix your own Old Pal

Fill two-thirds of a mixing glass with ice. Add 50 ml of rye whiskey, 25 ml of dry vermouth, and 25 ml of Campari. Stir well for about 20 seconds. Strain the mix into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange or lemon peel. Consider adding club soda (about 30 ml) when mixing—and just to put a spin on it, swap Campari with Aperol. Drink up!

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