That’s about how long it takes to get from Seattle to Singapore, if the gods of air travel are feeling benevolent and you happen to have the wind at your back (and a short layover in Tokyo sure doesn’t hurt).
But in 1902, 20 hours was the length of time it took to get from New York to Chicago, via one of the swankiest marvels to hit modern travel, the 20th Century Limited (in 1938, a new mechanical system cut the time down to only 16 hours). Running between Grand Central Station and LaSalle Street Station, this express passenger train was, in its heyday–it operated from 1902 to 1967–the most famous locomotive in the world. Designed in an Art Deco theme, with suave blues and grays offset by the specially crafted red carpet that was rolled out at station stops, the 20th Century Limited counted Theodore Roosevelt, Diamond Jim Brady and J.P. Morgan among its passengers over the years. And while the same distance can be covered today in just a couple of hours of flight time, Boeing has yet to design a passenger plane that can match the class, comfort and sheer spectacle of this railroad relic.
In 1939, a British bartender named C.A. Tuck created a mixological paean to the legendary train. But, without a bit of good fortune and the dedicated digging of cocktail archaeologist Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh, this drink would have gone the way of the train: into the history books, unknown to contemporary audiences. And that would have been a real shame–the Twentieth Century cocktail tastes like Art Deco in a glass. Backed by a good jolt of gin, the drink’s flavor comes from a lively mix of lemon juice, blonde Lillet and creme de cacao.
I don’t know if the Twentieth Century ever enjoyed much popularity–I find no mention of it in mid-century cocktail guides (Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide simply directs readers to the recipe for an Alexander). But thanks to the recent resurgence of classic cocktails, in the past few years the drink has appeared in drink manuals written by Dale DeGroff and Gary Regan, not to mention Doc’s own Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails.
Sipping this drink is like tasting another era. All aboard!
- 1 1/2 ounces London dry gin
- 3/4 ounce lemon juice
- 3/4 ounce Lillet
- 3/4 ounce white creme de cacao
Shake well with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a curl of lemon peel.
* Note: In The Joy of Mixology, Gary Regan scales back the lemon, Lillet and cacao to 1/2 ounce of each; in The Craft of the Cocktail, Dale Degroff takes them back some more, to 1/4 ounce of each. I’m so pleased with Doc’s recipe, I haven’t had reason to try the others, but it’s good to know the options are out there.
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