z salome bara 2

Theda Bara as Salome, 1918

Was it something I said? — John the Baptist

This cocktail is much older than I would have guessed, though not quite biblical. When I stumbled upon it in Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book, I did not give it much thought beyond the name. After all, it was just another cocktail of sweet and dry vermouth and gin with the usual Italian vermouth replaced with French Dubonnet. His book is full of similar concoctions: The Lone Tree, The Perfect Cocktail, The Rolls Royce (with a dash of Benedictine), One Exciting Night (with a dash of orange juice), etc., etc., etc.

The drink shows up again in Old Mr. Boston Official Bartenders Guide of 1935. So, that was the end of it. It was one of Craddock’s many variations of the Perfect, or Medium Martini. Just for yucks and in the pursuit of due diligence, I checked my other sources. There it was in Jack’s Manual of 1933. No surprise there. But what of his earlier editions? Well, I’ll be. There it was in his 1916 edition. So, how old is this cocktail with the evocative name? The earliest version I can find is in Straub’s Manual of Mixed Drinks from 1913. Almost twenty years before Craddock’s book. 

Straub’s 1913 Salome

1/4 Jigger Italian Vermouth (3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth)

1/4 Jigger French Vermouth (3/4 oz Dry Vermouth)

1/2 Jigger Dry Gin (1 1/2 oz Dry Gin)

2 dashes Orange Bitters

Frappé with 3 Celery Leaves (!)

Alla Nazimova 1922

Alla Nazimova as Salome, 1923

The celery leaves are, ah… an interesting addition, but believe it or not, they add a little bit of something to the taste and should not be ignored. To frappé a cocktail is to get it very cold; as close to frozen as you can get. To achieve this degree of cold as Straub and others did before the electric blender (which will just turn it into a Slurpee), use the smallest metal cocktail shaker you have and use crushed ice. Chill the shaker first, add the ingredients and the crushed ice. Then shake it very hard, very quickly. All this prep is, as Charles H. Baker (A Gentleman’s Companion) puts it,  “mainly to prevent much ice melting to dilute and injure the tone of the finished drink.” Right, Charles. Now strain into your very cold cocktail glass. For many frappé recipes the ice is left in, but not this one, so strain it, please. 

Jack’s Manual of 1916 is identical except that he specifically calls for “M&R Italian Vermouth” (Martini & Rossi). He follows suite in his 1933 version. If you want to make this drink a little drier, increase the gin to 2 ounces and decease the vermouths to 1/2 ounce each.

Craddock’s 1930 Salome

1/3 French Vermouth

1/3 Dry Gin

1/3 Dubonnet

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

Gone are the bitters and it has suddenly become an equal parts cocktail. The introduction of Dubonnet, a sweet, aromatized wine like Italian vermouth, should not have dictated a change in proportions. I put it down to laziness on someone’s part; either Craddock (or from whomever he got the recipe) or the editors of his book. The Old Mr. Boston book follows Craddock’s recipe.

Stick to the 1913 version and don’t forget the celery leaves. I have also used celery bitters with good results.

The Old Waldof-Astoria Bar Book (1935) lists a Salome cocktail composed of equal parts Italian (sweet) vermouth and Dubonnet with a couple dashes of absinthe. Sweet vermouth and Dubonnet. Who the hell is going to drink that? I strongly advise against it.

And what any of this has to do with erotic dancing or chopping off people’s heads, I have no idea. Have a Salome cocktail and don’t let it worry you. 

z salome Gertrude Hoffman

Gertrude Hoffman as Salome, c. 1908