This was deemed the most popular cocktail of the Dry Years. As G. Selmer Fougner of the New York Sun put it 1937: “Gin was of course available at every street corner, so to speak; orange juice was equally abundant, and no art was required in the mixture.” The Bronx was bound to lose some of its popularity with Repeal when ingredients other than gin became available again. Fougner and others have given credit for the invention and naming of the drink to bartender Johnnie Solon, who created it at the Waldorf Astoria sometime shortly after 1900. [i]
As Solon explained to Albert Stevens Crockett in Old Waldorf Bar Days, the drink was created by a patron who challenged the bartender to come up with a new cocktail. The challenge was carried to Solon by the headwaiter of the Empire Room, a man named Traverson. The drink was concocted and given to the headwaiter to taste. Traverson swallowed it whole and declared that it would be a big hit.
“The name?” Solon told Crockett. “No it wasn’t really named directly after the borough or the river so-called. I had been at the Bronx Zoo a day or two before, and I saw, of course, a lot of beasts I had never known. Customers used to tell me of the strange animals they saw after a lot of mixed drinks. So when Traversson said to me, as he started to take the drink into the customer, ‘What will I tell him is the name of this drink?' I thought of those animals, and said: ‘You can tell him it is a Bronx.’” [ii]
The remarkable thing is that Solon never touched a drop of liquor, but he had the uncanny ability to create great drinks.
Preparation Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange slice.
Cultural context The most dramatic example of the impact of a single type of cocktail was the Bronx, which along with the Manhattan and the Martini were the preferred drinks of home bartenders and the better speakeasies. In New York City, the Bronx was by all accounts the most popular of all, and New Yorkers were consuming a large number of oranges from Florida which were then reputed to produce more juice than those from California. On September 12, 1925, Stephen Harvey, the Mayor of Palm Beach, was in New York and made a stunning claim: the Florida land boom was the result of the Bronx cocktail and the demand for juicy oranges. The boom began the demand for agricultural land and later the demand for residential property. Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, would later trace the beginnings of his alcoholism to a Bronx cocktail which he consumed while stationed as an Army officer in a camp in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The drink was served to him by a patriotic hostess entertaining Bill and his fellow officers. “In those Roaring Twenties,” he remembered, “I was drinking to dream great dreams of greater power.” His wife became increasingly concerned, but he assured her that “men of genius conceive their best projects when drunk.” This was all an illustion and after Bill hit rock bottom he led himself and others to sobriety. [iii]
[i] Fougner, G. Selmer, 1884-1941. Along the Wine Trail Vol V. The Sun Printing and Publishing Assoc., 1937. p. 98.
[ii] Albert Stevens Crockett, Old Waldorf Bar Days, 1st ed. Aventine Press, New York,1931. pp. 80-1.
[iii] New York Times, January 27, 1971. “Bill W., 75, Dies; Cofounder Of Alcoholics Anonymous.”