The Merry Widow Cocktail


What some might call a fancy martini is actually a bit more than the sum of its parts. This libation first appeared in Hugo Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks from 1916. As with so many cocktails, it was named after a popular theater piece that hit the American stage in 1907 at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway. Originally staged in Vienna, the operetta was translated into multiple languages, undergoing any number of character name changes and reworkings of the plot, and traveled the world from London to New York, even to Brasil (where it ran in several languages simultaneously), and finally to Paris. The later film versions deviated even more from the original. The drink, however, has remained relatively intact over the years. 


Lily Elsie in the London production of The Merry Widow, 1907

The Merry Widow Cocktail

1 ½ Dry Gin

1 ½ French (Dry) Vermouth

1 Dash of Peychaud’s Bitters

2 Dashes Absinthe, Pernod, or Herbsaint

2 Dashes Benedictine

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist

You can use Angostura Bitters if you do not have Peychaud’s, but the latter is better. You can also adjust the ratio of gin to vermouth a bit, but please don’t take it too far. This is not a martini, so if you cut back too far on the vermouth, thinking (wrongly) that vermouth is meant only to cut slightly the gin, you will end up with a glass of odd-tasting gin and not the balanced cocktail it is meant to be. For those who may still find vermouth worrisome, I invite you to read one of my earlier posts which will, hopefully, allay any lingering trepidation with this most versatile of ingredients. 

The Merry Widow has been adopted for the silver screen at least five times, the best known being Erich von Stroheim’s 1925 silent film starring John Gilbert and Mae Murray, and the 1934 version with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald.

But there is only one Merry Widow cocktail. Enjoy one tonight!

I hope you enjoyed this post. There are lots more where this came from so feel free to explore the site, maybe visit the Recipes Index, or hit the “Basics” tab at the top of the page if you are relatively new to cocktails. If you would like to be notified of future posts, click the “Follow” button.



John Gilbert and Mae Murray, 1925