There are few cocktail guides with as much history as “The Old-Waldorf Astoria Bar Book” by Albert Stevens Crockett. The original source material, “Old Waldorf Bar Days” (1931), also by Crockett, was penned during Prohibition but the author rewrote it as we know it in 1933 when Prohibition ended. This version contained a comprehensive selection of sophisticated period-specific recipes dating all the way back to the Civil War. It became the standard for well-established bars and drinkers—and unsurprisingly, many of those cocktails are still consumed today. Over the years, there have been a few re-releases with minor updates, but for the first time in 80 years, the book has received a brand new overhaul. “The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book,” released this month, is an exemplary refresh helmed by Frank Caiafa. Over five years, Caiafa—the bar manager at the NYC Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley cocktail bar and restaurant—delved into the history of the hotel’s drinks program. He tried every single cocktail in the book’s previous iterations (over 500) and created something that’s neither a dictionary nor a history book. It’s a guide to bringing one of the best bar programs home.
While it’s not slender by any means (at 416 pages), “The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book” does slim down the recipe selections—while supporting them with cocktails from “Drinks” (1914) by Jacques Straub and “Bottoms Up” (1951) by Ted Saucier, both of whom were associated with the Waldorf in some ways. There are tweaked pre-Prohibition drinks, variations on everything we know and love, and Caiafa also adds plenty of his own modern creations. In addition to the updated recipes, there’s also a substantial section on the history of the bar program and hotel. And the recipes themselves come complete with tidbits of information about their development. Rounding it all out, the author offers tips on home bar essentials and advice on scaling up drinks for parties. It’s thorough, of course, but very easy to use. More importantly, it’s fun to flip through. To get a better understanding of what went into making this book, we took an excursion to the Waldorf, sipped cocktails with Caiafa at Peacock Alley and dined at La Chine. There’s more to the hotel than its famous brunch and experiencing it first hand lends further weight to the book’s importance.
According to Caiafa, “I always knew about the old books but when I started here in 2005, we always discussed culling recipes from the old book, but the new Peacock Alley was so different from the old, we felt like it was a disservice to the kitchen. I wanted to keep it fresh. That’s why the bar didn’t concentrate on the old books.” He continues, “there were some renditions from the old books at the beginning, but it wasn’t something we promoted.” Caiafa thought about sending out flights of the original cocktails in conjunction with his revitalized versions, but it became evident guests preferred the knew drinks. As time passed, however, the tides shift and people began preferring drinks of the old. He began revisiting the books again—and proposed a new edition. “It was green light after green light,” he says. And then the full deep dive into the research began.
“I felt like the preface, believe it or not, that was actually the backbone of what was going to be the story of the hotel and the book and the travel log of it all,” he adds. “I wrote this for guests and for people to absorb quickly—who get it and want to try. There’s a lot in here if you want to dig through the onion. If not, they’re just great recipes that are easily produced,” he concludes. Of course, you won’t find any old recipes featuring vodka or tequila in this book (though, there are new ones), as neither spirits were prevalent at the time. There are some wonders and some happen to be startlingly creative—and not yet buzzing in the classic cocktail revivalist menus around the world. This is a book for anyone who wants a bit of the past, present and future all together. And again, it’s worth popping over to the hotel itself to try them first hand.
You can buy the The Waldorf Astoria Bar book online for $15.
Images courtesy of the Waldorf Astoria New York