Legend has it that the Sazerac was the first drink to be called a cocktail. Created in the 1830s by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Peychaud, the drink was named for Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils, a popular cognac of the era that was its key ingredient, along with absinthe and Peychaud's eponymous bitters. The cocktail has evolved over the years and now is most commonly made with rye whiskey instead of cognac. When well-made, it's a sublime elixir of disparate flavors in perfect equilibrium.
Presuming you can find it at all, that is. Classic cocktails such as the Sazerac, sidecar and old-fashioned fell out of favor years ago, their subtle charms upstaged by a technicolor tide of "martinis" with names like Strawberry Gazpacho and The Grape Gatsby. Until recently, if you ordered a Sazerac at a bar outside Louisiana, all you were likely to get from the bartender was a blank stare.
Order one from Gary Crunkleton or one of his crew at The Crunkleton, and you'll get more than just an expertly made Sazerac. One of a new generation of bartenders reviving the cocktail classics, Crunkleton opened his bar on Franklin Street last year. From the restrained elegance of a Mission-style bar to bowtie-clad bartenders who are as friendly as they are well-trained, The Crunkleton is a throwback to the Golden Age of the American bar.
I don't imagine, though, that many bars in the past were as well-stocked as this one is: 40 bourbons, for instance, and 35 Scotch whiskeys, including several rare treasures you won't find elsewhere in these parts. Many are suitable for sipping neat, and others are useful in mixing traditional cocktails -- martinis (gin, thank you) and Manhattans, as well as pre-Prohibition punches and other esoteric concoctions. Parched Anglophiles and English expats will be happy to know that The Crunkleton serves a spot-on Pimm's Cup.
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But Gary Crunkleton's passion is the Sazerac. Get him started, and he'll tell you how he traveled to New Orleans to research the drink. He'll explain that his Sazerac recipe is patterned after the one served at the Napoleon House, a New Orleans mecca for Sazerac aficionados. He's also happy to vary the recipe if you like and will freely discuss the relative merits of the various rye whiskeys (he currently stocks six) and other variations in the drink. If you're interested, he'll even regale you with a little Sazerac lore.
Better plan on having two.