Saloons in the Old West brings to mind a particular image — bar fights, card games and shots of whiskey. While there was plenty of gambling, the rest is part of a romantic idea that the Gilcrease After Hours event, Liquor of the American West, attempted to dispel. The Beverage Director at McNellie’s Group, Tony Collins, discussed how boomtown saloons were much more elegant than we normally give them credit for. Rather than dusty, wooden buildings, the saloons were usually nice buildings that served food and cocktails.
Those cocktails were the focus of the event. Collins talked about four cocktails, each of which showcased a different element of historical cocktails. The Improved Whiskey Cocktail, for example, which included small amounts of absinthe and maraschino liqueur, was one of the first evolutions beyond traditional cocktails, which were once just spirits, water, sugar, and bitters.
I really enjoy hearing about food history, so I really enjoyed listening to Collins. Even though he only talked for about half an hour, he brought in interesting history, like the fact that whiskey only started to overtake brandy in popularity after a pest decimated grape production in the 1800s. If you weren’t into food history, though, the Gilcrease was also serving the cocktails that Collins discussed.
I had a Martinez, which Collins had described as the missing link between a Manhattan and a Martini. Made with Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and bitters, it was sweet but not cloying. A friend got the Claret Sangaree, which was red wine with muddled fruit, a relative of sangria, but prepared individually rather than in a bowl. I stole a sip, and it wasn’t as tannic as I expected, which was a little disappointing, but still good.
Western folk band Bandelier was playing where the cocktails were being served. The band’s music fit the theme of the event, but it felt as though they were trying too hard to create an upbeat atmosphere–they seemed most comfortable when they stuck to slower, more traditional folk. Though they played well, the restaurant room of the Gilcrease wasn’t designed with acoustics in mind, and you could definitely hear it.
Gilcrease After Hours events take place on the last Friday of every month, and are free for the general public.