This little-known cocktail deserves a much wider audience.
No, it's not a large sport-utility vehicle built by Chevrolet. No, it's not a reference to decentralized, automobile-dependent, sprawling built landscapes encountered across North America. No, it's not a reference to the 1950s. It's a drink. A damn good one. I've been drinking them for about a month now, and telling everyone I know that they've got to try one.
Various sources suggest that this cocktail was first made in New York City in the 1880s. Named after the Suburban Handicap thoroughbred horse race (the last of the three races that together comprise the New York Handicap Triple) which began in 1884 in Long Island, it apparently reflects the influence of an upscale saloon culture of New York City in the late 19th century.
Saloons were known as male spaces, where the only women present fit into un"lady"-like categories. Working-class men, in particular, depended on saloons for sociability and sport. Because temperance advocates imagined (in some cases, correctly) that the many vices destroying American society stemmed from the saloons, middle and upper-class men turned to hotel restaurants and private clubs and enjoyed consuming alcohol in the esteemed circumstances of socially exclusive venues. Avoiding saloons, they also turned away from beer, cider, and straight liquors and supported a burgeoning (and more respectable) cocktail culture.
Bartenders at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan (built in 1893) included this drink in their recipe book, repeating the story that it was created in honor of James R. Keene. As a famous horse owner, horse racer, and Gilded Age bigshot, Keene apparently gained enough noteriety to have this drink invented by some unknown bartender for him.
It's dry, much more than you'd think. The evil tendency of rum--sickly sweetness--is mitigated by the rye. Port mingles the flavors of the two New World liquors. The bitters bring complexity to the richness of the drink, making it more than merely palatable.
To be sure, it's chock full of alcohol. David Wondrich, the drinks columnist at Esquire, calls this a winter drink. And he's right. Thank god winter will last a few more weeks here in the Upper Midwest:
3 oz rye whiskey
1 oz port wine
1 0z dark rum
3 dashes orange bitters
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Pour the ingredients into a shaker, add ice, and shake vigorously. Pour into a martini glass.
NOTE: Be careful. This one sneaks up on you.