I characterize the Metropole as a brandy-based cocktail, though the original formula suggested equal parts brandy and vermouth.

Probably invented somewhere around 1890, the Metropole was the house cocktail of New York City’s Metropole Hotel. The Metropole stood near 42nd and Broadway—the heart of the city’s theater district, not a safe or savory neighborhood even in the 19th century. It was Times Square, before Times Square existed.

Whatever failings the hotel and its neighborhood may have had, the cocktail named for the place should find welcome in any respectable bar. It is delicious, comfortable, and delightfully balanced.

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

  • 2 oz Brandy (Remy-Martin or Courvoisier VSOP Cognac)
  • 1 oz French Vermouth (Noilly Prat French Dry)
  • ⅛ oz simple syrup (to taste)
  • 1 dash orange bitters (Bitter Truth Orange Bitters)
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Stir all ingredients until very cold; strain into a chilled cocktail stem. Garnish with cherry (original) or lemon twist.

David Wondrich (Imbibe!, 2007) reports that the Metropole was first published in Modern American Drinks (1894) by George J. Kappeler, and it is from Kappeler that we get the original equal-parts brandy and vermouth formula. It does not make a very good drink; it is neither a brandy nor a vermouth drink, a case where the sum of one and one is less than two. The 2:1 proportion listed here provides a much more balanced and unified cocktail. (This isn’t just my idea—Wondrich’s account goes on to note that as early as 1904, Paul E. Lowe, in Drinks as They Are Mixed, was already onto the more brandyesque version.)

As for the brandy itself, a mixing-grade cognac seems just the thing here. The Remy-Martin VSOP cognac is the Cold Glass house brandy, and makes a fine Metropole; I’m sure any number of other VSOP-grade cognacs would be good, as well.

Noilly Prat’s vermouth seems to be made for this drink. Its lush, herbal character blends perfectly with the cognac and the spices in the Peychaud’s. The little bit of sugar—about a barspoon—is barely needed, but it rounds out the flavors nicely.