Cocktail Books That Will Make Your Bar Program Holiday Iconic

When you get to be the age that you are when you start reading vital trade publications like, your send-a-letter-to-Santa-asking-for-toys days are far behind you. But that doesn’t mean that the holiday can’t be filled with joy and wonder and excitement! Oh no. It just means that what excites you, and how you obtain it, might be a little different. By this age you know that jolly red suited guy isn’t going to bring what you want in his sleigh… you’re on your own here.

Which is why we’re so thankful for the annual special editions sale from Kitchen Arts & Letters! (Okay, let’s be honest, we’re so thankful for the existence of Kitchen Arts & Letters which opened in New York City in 1983 as an independent bookstore specializing in food and drink. Their selection ranges from cookbooks to books on food history and scholarship and general food writing.) Holidays 2022 kicked off with a collection of very special out of print cocktail books. The store has just one copy of each which makes it the perfect gift for someone who wants a special volume with which to explore drinks history.

From a practical standpoint, any business using these as inspiration will create a menu that sets their bar apart from the run of the mill cocktail menus of competitors. Plus, there’s the thrill of the hunt; picking up books from the likes of Harry Craddock, Jerry Thomas, Lucius Beebe, David A. Embury, and “Trader Vic” Bergeron is as exciting as finding Taylor Swift concert tickets for those who love her music. Fortunately, these cocktail books are a bit more accessible.

And isn’t access what bartending is all about? Access to a great night out, access to great spirits and access to great stories that bring communities together are the trifecta that make up the heart of hospitality. Drawing from some of these classics will make that heart beat stronger; and make all the difference in your bar program.

Managing Partner Matt Sartwell comments on the store’s 2022 holiday offerings, “The out-of-print department eagerly looks forward to the holiday season. We get to share the most exciting things we have acquired over the last year: special treats we acquire and squirrel away for the time when collectors and their loved ones begin dreaming up gift ideas.

The first of several newsletters with festivity and generosity in mind, this collection is carefully chosen for cocktail historians and fanatics. You will find highly sought titles in the genre, as well as a few you may not have heard of before but that we think carry enough charm and personality to be worthy inclusions in their own right. As always, we only have one copy of each to offer.”

He continues, “These books sort of have the power of a double whammy; they were important in their day and resonate today. One reason they’re so expensive is that they’ve been discovered by a younger generation of bartenders who are interested in looking through the fog of history to cocktails that were once state of the art. Sometimes they involve spirits no longer available, or combinations that have fallen off top of people’s minds. We see a lot of interest from people paying attention to history of bartending. Not every drink is a treasure, and some are just great cocktail books as a physical item as well as for its content.”

These are the books that will transport you and your guests to bars gone by, to discover new recipes and to reimagine the bar experience.

Here are just a few gems that await you, or can be sought out on your behalf:

by Jose Abeal Y Otero

This small (3” x 2”) staple-bound booklet was produced throughout the 1930s as a souvenir for the original Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Havana, founded by Spanish immigrant Jose Abeal Y Otero. The bar was a frequent haunt of well-to-do Americans—looking for a reprieve during Prohibition—and Europeans, both enjoying the festive nightlife the Caribbean island offered.

Sloppy Joe’s became the place to go and, along with its single-piece 60-foot mahogany bar, it was known for its celebrity draw. Notable clientele over the decades included the Duke of Windsor, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemmingway, Graham Greene, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, and John Wayne. The bar’s popularity endured throughout the war years. Later, the Cuban Revolution and US embargo led to decreased interest and accessibility, and the bar closed in 1965. After a long restoration process, it reopened in 2013.

We are pleased to offer one of these uncommon souvenirs from the 1934 season. It includes a brief history of the bar and its owner, which is then followed by cocktail recipes and a list of sandwiches available for purchase. For an item produced with cheap materials as a “freebie,” they are not often found in such Fine condition as this copy.

Also included in this offer are two original postcards from the bar. One, featuring a black and white photograph of the bar and patrons, is blank on the back. The other, featuring a color illustration of the packed bar, has a previous owner’s name written on the back where it is missing some of the glossy paper, likely from being taped up. A great gift and an unusual find. $210

by Harry Craddock

Here is a book that requires very little explanation and only a few ecstatic adjectives. Published in 1930, it was the creation of the great cocktailer Harry Craddock (1876–1930), at London’s Savoy Hotel. An Englishman by birth, Craddock relocated to New York in 1897 but, with the arrival of prohibition in America, returned to London, where, at the Savoy, he gained a considerable following and a reputation as a master bartender.

Craddock’s book contains some 750 recipes, including all of the classic fizzes, flips, slings, and others, as well as a number of his own inventions, a long-time favorite of which is the Corpse Reviver #2. In addition he provides his own witty commentaries and a goodly amount of cocktail history—some of it quite possibly true.

Beyond its contents The Savoy Cocktail Book is famous as an exquisite piece of bookmaking. Its elegant art deco design is museum-worthy (and the volume is, in fact, displayed at the Cooper-Hewitt branch of the Smithsonian Institution in New York City). Notable are its striking black, green, and gold cover, festive endpapers, stylish page design, and witty drawings, reproduced in an array of colors.

Craddock’s great book has been re-issued in innumerable editions by many publishers. However, there is only one true first printing, which we offer here. This is identifiable by a recipe on page 25 called the Bacardi Special Cocktail—which appears in all subsequent editions as Bacardi Cocktail—and an errata for said cocktail tipped in.

Because the gold leaf on the case is subject to scratching and chipping, nearly every example we have ever seen on offer is rubbed or flawed in one way or another. The copy we are offering is no major exception. The front and rear boards show some scuffing, and the fore corners are rubbed enough to expose the boards underneath; the bottom edge of the case, both front and rear, shows a small divot, perhaps from shelving on an uneven surface. Light foxing has begun to show on the edges. The interior is clean and unmarked and the binding secure. Issued without dust jacket. We have made a custom slipcase covered in black cloth to protect the book from further wear. $1800

by Albert S. Crockett

We proudly present here the very scarce 1934 first printing (Dodd Mead, New York) of newspaperman Albert Crockett’s The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. Crockett was the press agent for and a champion of the bar for many years and spent more hours “gathering material” than he might care to confess. In 1931, during Prohibition and after the hotel’s move further uptown, Crockett published Old Waldorf Bar Days, a history of the brass rail and its renowned cocktails.

This second book, published after the repeal of the 18th Amendment, is a bit of a rehashing of the original but focuses more on the cocktail recipes, as they were (officially) useful once again. He presents many of the same recipes, some with minor tweaking, as those in Old Waldorf Bar Days but with less commentary on the origins and histories of each.

Crockett’s musings provide thoughtful context to the drinking habits of post-WWI Europe and America and distinguishes those drinks that originated before the Great War and those before Prohibition.

Among the “amendments” to the original book, we find notable international influence. Between the war exposing soldiers to new locales and thirsty Americans escaping off to Cuba to satiate their thirst for liquor, new tastes emerged. Brandy-based drinks like the Sidecar appear along with a large influx of tropically-inclined cocktails from the Caribbean islands.

Our copy was recased in gray cloth by a previous owner with the original cloth covers laid on and re-colored by some crafty hand that, perhaps, was trying to remedy the fading or rubbing off of the original ink. The quality of ink used for the task was certainly not intended for this purpose, and it has begun to smear. The interior is very clean and crisp, printed on high-quality stock, though there are two handwritten recipes on a blank page at the rear. The jacket is absent. Perhaps not peak collectors’ condition, but certainly a respectable example of this not-often-seen title. $1350

by “Trader Vic” Bergeron

Victor Bergeron (1902–1984), better known as Trader Vic, is widely credited, along with Donn Beach, for giving legs to the tiki cocktail craze that began in the 1930s and lasted for decades in the US. Bergeron was one of the foremost practitioners of the kitschy aesthetics associated with tiki culture, and his influence was given national prominence by a partnership with Conrad Hilton that spread Trader Vic’s restaurants across the country.

Bartender’s Guide (1947) is a manual intended for professionals. It includes a chapter on how to deal with check dodgers and drunks and two other chapters titled “People that Bartenders Have Learned Not to Like” and “Bartenders that Customers Don’t Like.” Of course there are cocktails too, many of them. Naturally, the book favors tiki drinks and other classics that have a tropical flare, but you will also find martinis, Manhattans, and other standards.

San Francisco illustrator Ray Sullivan’s snappy drawings are peppered throughout, as well as exhibited in a double-page spread guide to the various cups and glasses employed in Bergeron’s recipes.

Humorous, irreverent, brash, and decidedly “modern”—a counterpoint to the worship of pre-Prohibition classics and bartenders in suspenders—the book also takes seriously its job of creating enjoyable cocktails and decent, knowledgeable bartenders.

This is the 1948 Garden City reprint, a more attractive—by our estimation—printing than the later revised edition. Very Good plus with light foxing to the page edges and some discoloration to the endpapers. The unclipped jacket, also Very Good, shows moderate chipping and light dampstaining, most noticeably on the back. Good fun. $225

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