By Heather Sperling
Chris Raab was perusing The Savoy Cocktail Book; when he got to the two-page Toddy section it dawned on him – no one’s really doing this! At SB3, a small, low-lit bar in the lower East Village with decrepitly hip couches upstairs and a performance space downstairs, Raab had just begun introducing the clientele to sophisticated drinks, squeezing Solera Brandy, Lillet, and a line of homemade syrups in among the spread of vodkas at the bar. Toddies – an old-fashioned and largely out of style mixture of lemon, honey, liquor and hot water – were not the obvious next step in the neighborhood’s cocktail education. But it was cold, and Raab was motivated.
So using a plug-in hot pot and the three Savoy Cocktail recipes for inspiration, he came up with a Toddy menu to make Harry Craddock proud.
The Savoy Cocktail book was published in 1930; it drew from Craddock’s repertoire at The American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London where he, like so many of the era’s bar masters, had fled once Prohibition came into effect. Through Craddock and other characters, American cocktail culture – which was unique to America at that time – lived on abroad. And, interestingly, toddies lived on in the US – by way of a loophole in Prohibition laws. Whiskey was horded by pharmacists and rationed as “medicinal liquor”; in Kentucky, anyone over 21 could purchase “Any liquor… which is used as a curative, alleviative or palliative for bodily disorders or bodily pain…”* (and they could write their own prescription, at that). The toddy’s reputation as a cure for fever, colds, insomnia, and other such bodily disorders, helped it slip nicely through that crack.
Fast-forward to the cocktail-friendly 2000s: Raab’s menu features five toddies, each made with a base of liquor, citrus and honey, each promising to cure what ails ya – and add to the bottom line. While the weather is still fluky (i.e., most of March), offering toddies after a meal is a quick and easy revenue booster. All it takes is a hot pot...
* “Kentucky Colonel Can Get His Toddy; All He Has to Do Under New Law Is to Write Own Prescription for Medicinal Liquor.” The New York
Times, March 18, 1934.