Alexander the Great

The first drink James Bond has in Risico, while meeting with his contact Kristatos, is a Negroni. Risico prominently features one more cocktail, if in a somewhat dismissive fashion. Kristatos identifies himself to Bond at the Hotel Excelsior’s bar with a signal: an Alexander, which amuses 007.

“Bond had been told to look for a man with a heavy mustache who would be by himself drinking an Alexandra. Bond had been amused by the secret recognition signal. The creamy, feminine drink was so much cleverer than the folded newspaper, the flower in the buttonhole, the yellow gloves that were the hoary, slipshod call-signs between agents.”

Better known by it’s masculine name, There are several variations of the Alexandra/Alexander, the best known of which is the Brandy Alexander but the original recipe for which is simply a mixture of gin, creme de cacao, and sweet cream. It was reportedly invented at New York’s famous pre-Prohibition food and drink palace Rector’s by bartender Troy Alexander, who wanted to create a drink to serve during a dinner celebrating the cartoon character Phoebe Snow (not to be confused with the singer-songwriter who was born some years later). This Phoebe Snow was clad all in white and used to promote the use of “clean-burning” coal by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. A dubious saleswoman, and her likeness was adapted for political cartoons skewering Chicago politician William Lorimer, who was accused of having special interest buy his way into the U.S. Senate.

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Alexander

  • 1 oz gin
  • 1 oz white creme de cacao
  • 1 oz light cream
  • nutmeg
  • Shake all ingredients (except nutmeg) with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Sprinkle nutmeg on top.

Rector’s was the (somewhat bawdy) toast of New York in its day, an opulent restaurant opened in 1899 at Broadway and 44th Street by Charles Rector. This “lobster palace” (at a time when lobster was still considered a sort of poor person’s blue collar food) quickly became one of the most popular spots during the “Gay Nineties” and particularly favored by actors, chorus girls from the nearby Ziegfeld Follies (which itself paid tribute to Rector’s raucous reputation in the song “If the Tables at Rector’s Could Talk”), and boisterous but well-heeled (but not necessarily sophisticated) theater goers — especially older men looking to flirt with the pretty girls who frequented the establishment. The waiters were all impeccably dressed in formal evening wear, the table settings were exquisite, and the food was beloved by no less voracious a gourmand than Gilded Age captain of industry “Diamond” Jim Brady. Felix Leiter would have loved the place.

Chances are

Chances are “Diamond” Jim Brady and Lillian Russell liked Rector’s because the establishment refused to let Charlie McCarthy in

Unfortunately, it wasn’t around long enough for Leiter and Bond to enjoy a drink and grope a pretty girl. In 1911, Charles Rector expanded his empire into the hotel business, but the somewhat salacious reputation of his restaurant coupled with a saucy play called The Girl from Rector’s meant that the hotel was quickly assumed to be the sort of place one might go to take restaurant flirting and lap-sitting to the next level. Two years later, the hotel was out of business and Charles Rector, despondent over the failure and the unsavory reputation of the hotel, retired from the hospitality business altogether. His son Charles, who had been responsible for much of the success enjoyed by the kitchen, took over operations, but by then the nature of dining out was changing, and Rector’s had lost it’s opulent sheen. The restaurant closed permanently in 1914.

Although James Bond never had a chance to drop by Rector’s, he did visit New York’s other most famous “lobster palace.” In the short story 007 in New York (Fleming’s apology for being so cranky about New York in Thrilling Cities), James Bond asserts that oyster stew with cream and crackers and a Miller High Life at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal is among the best meals he’s ever had. And unlike Rector’s, the Oyster Bar is still around.

The Alexander endured. Exactly how it evolved into the Brandy Alexander is, as is usual for this shaky thing called cocktail history, a topic of debate. One story claims that brandy was substituted for gin in 1922 during the wedding of England’s Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, to Viscount Henry Charles George, Viscount Lascelles. But there doesn’t seem anything particularly Brandy Alexander-esque about the affair, which is remembered more these days (if it is remembered at all) as the first royal function attended by Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, wife of King George VI, last Empress of India, and mother of Queen Elizabeth II, the current reigning Queen of England. Both the Queen Mum and current Queen Elizabeth were/are gin women, incidentally. Specifically gin and Dubonnet (a sweet and herbal French aperitif).

Czar Alexander II of Russia insisted that the drink was a creation wholly different from the Alexander and named in honor of him. Literary critic and Algonquin Roundtable member Alexander Woollcott insisted the drink was named after him. While that’s not likely to ever be settled, we can be somewhat certain, even though it is not specified in Risico, that Kristatos’ drink was a Brandy Alexander, as it was considerably more popular in Fleming’s time than the largely forgotten Alexander with gin. Then again, Fleming did like to mess with things, so who really knows?

Brandy Alexander

  • 2 oz Cognac or other fine aged brandy
  • 1 oz Dark crème de cacao
  • 1 oz Cream
  • nutmeg
  • Shake all ingredients (except nutmeg) with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Sprinkle nutmeg on top.

Oh, one reason 007 might have to dislike the Alexander, other than its being feminine: it was one of the favorite drinks of the leader of a group James Bond despised even more than SMERSH or SPECTRE: John Lennon of The Beatles.

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