The Bronx Cocktail is a light and simple drink, something you might serve as a luncheon cocktail, or even a brunch cocktail, if you’re looking for something more assertive than the usual Mimosas and Bellinis to launch you into the noonday sunshine.

History of the Bronx

The usually accepted story of the Bronx is that it was invented as just such a lunchtime thirst quencher by Johnnie Solon at the Big Brass Rail barroom at New York City’s Waldorf Hotel. (That was before they built the Empire State Building on the site.) It appeared in William Boothby’s 1908 The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them, and quickly achieved cocktail celebrity status—by the end of Prohibition, only the Martini and the Manhattan were more popular than the Bronx. It was a handy recipe to know in a culture that had lots of dodgy gin, and lots of orange juice to cover it up.

Despite its early popularity, the Bronx faded, then fell completely from sight in the decades since WWII.

As William Grimes put it in Straight Up or On the Rocks:

“The Bronx was the Bukharin of cocktails, denounced with unseemly enthusiasm as the Stalinist orthodoxy of the martini rigidified. It’s too bad, because the Bronx deserves to be counted among the classics. It is a very good cocktail.”

Such was the fate of vermouth-laden cocktails in the second half of the 20th Century.

The Bronx Cocktail, photo © 2011 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Bronx Cocktail

Building the Bronx

The Bronx is often described as a Perfect Martini with orange juice. Recipes are all over the map; the amount of orange juice, for example, ranges from an ounce of orange juice per drink all the way down to just a spoonful. There is even something called the “Bronx Cocktail—No. 2” in Gale and Marco’s The How and When (1940) that contains no orange juice at all, only an orange twist. We’re pretty much back to the Perfect Martini again with that one.

The version I prefer is based directly on Gary Regan’s formula (The Joy of Mixology, 2003):

The Bronx Cocktail

  • 2 oz gin (Tanqueray, Boodles)
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • ¼–½ oz dry vermouth (Dolin Blanc, Noilly Prat French Dry)
  • ¼–½ oz sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica)
  • 2 dashes orange bitters (Bitter Truth Orange Bitters)

Shake all with ice until cold; strain into a chilled cocktail stem. Express and garnish with orange twist.

The Bronx works best with juniper-forward gins like Tanqueray or Bombay Dry; an experiment with the lighter Boodles went well, though the orange juice dominated the drink. If you enjoy less “junipery” gins, it would certainly be worthwhile to tune this drink for your specific favorite.

With a juniper-forward gin, I like this 2:1 ratio of gin to juice. As the Boodles experiment indicated, orange juice is a real flavor driver; the juice will take over the drink if you increase its proportion even a little. As always, this should be freshly squeezed juice, it makes all the difference.  (And if you have access to many kinds of fresh oranges, I envy your opportunity to experiment with flavors.)

Regan’s formula suggests the quarter-ounce measures of the vermouths. I prefer the half-ounce portion, but that is going to be driven by the sweetness of your oranges, and by the vermouths you have on hand. The vermouth is definitely the “tuning” ingredient in the Bronx.

Still have some oranges on hand? Coming up next: Satan’s Whiskers.