Eats and Drinks
A perfect summertime sipper, Top off 2 ounces of hooch with ice, the juice of half a lime, the half-lime rind, and club soda.
Published: June 12, 2013
To the usual stew of loathing and envy with which Baltimoreans typically regard Washington—our smug but undeniably stylin’ municipal step-sibling to the south—I add a dollop of pity, especially now that Bermuda-high season has beset us. As soupy as summers get up here, D.C. has it even worse. The notion that Washington was built on a swamp may be an urban myth but it persists for good reason.
I’m jealous, though, of the Rickey, D.C.’s officially proclaimed “native cocktail” and a perfect summertime sipper. Top off 2 ounces of hooch (gin has become traditional, but any will do) with ice, the juice of half a lime, the half-lime rind, and club soda. The only sweat involved should bead on the ice-cold glass.
Unlike most proclamations issued from Our Nation’s Capital, this “native cocktail” business carries some legitimacy. The Rickey’s history traces pretty clearly, as these things go, to Shoomaker’s, a notoriously shabby dive frequented in the late 19th century by the district’s unholy trinity of politicians, journalists, and lobbyists. Shoo’s sat on E Street, in close proximity to the White House, a slew of press offices collectively known as Newspaper Row, and the Willard Hotel, where President Ulysses S. Grant often held court with cigar and brandy in hand (and whose lobby thus popularized the name given to the profession of political favor-seeking).
Gregarious lobbyist Colonel Joe Rickey habitually took a morning snort of whiskey and seltzer over an ice cube at Shoo’s. The 1883 introduction of lime to Rickey’s “mornin’s mornin’” is generally attributed to Shoo’s barkeep George Williamson, himself a notable figure in the era’s power-drinking circles. The colonel’s numerous friends and acquaintances took to asking for “a Rickey drink” at Shoo’s and elsewhere. Over the next decade, by all accounts, the Rickey became a full-blown national fad, made with a variety of other liquors, gin the most prominent and enduring. Rickey himself stuck with whiskey, literally until his death in 1903, when he swallowed a suicidal cocktail of whiskey and carbolic acid.
Shoo’s succumbed to Prohibition, and the Rickey’s fashionability slowly faded until the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild launched a revival crusade in 2008. July has since been designated “Rickey Month” in Washington, with a variety of bars offering both classic and creative versions. (Details should be Googlable shortly.) Rickey Month could make a road trip worthwhile—on a not-too-steamy day. Commiseration only goes so far.
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