Last week at the New Yorker (see Dining), I tasted my first cable car cocktail. It didn’t suck. In fact, it quickly became my favorite cocktail of all. It’s helpful to have a favorite, so you don’t make bartenders crazy while hemming and hawing over what to drink and then finally ordering a cosmopolitan. Or white Zinfandel. James Bond had his signature drink; now I have mine. Like 007’s vodka martini, I prefer my cable car shaken, not stirred.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that many bartenders outside of the New Yorker’s would know how to make a cable car. The art of mixing fine cocktails—and I’m not talking about J%uFFFDgermeister and Red Bull here—has largely gone the way of true American democracy. It’s just a distant memory for most of us.
The cable car isn’t exactly a “classic” cocktail, but it should be. It was created in 1996 by master mixologist Tony Abou-Gamin as a signature cocktail for the Starlight Room atop San Francisco’s Sir Francis Drake Hotel. The drink is named for the Nob Hill cable car, whose tracks run adjacent to the Drake. It is said that the Starlight Room can be found “between and stars and the cable cars.”
Who the hell is Tony Abou-Gamin? Well, I know him from the bar at Mario Batali’s Po restaurant in Greenwich Village. From there, he went on to open the Starlight Room, creating an award-winning drink menu that included his signature cable car. He also invented the sunsplash and Starlight cocktails. This guy knows how to mix a drink. He’s been featured on the Fine Living Network’s Raising the Bar: America’s Best Bar Chefs and grew up in the business, originally tending bar at the Brass Rail Bar in Port Huron, Mich. Most recently, he released a DVD entitled Modern Mixology: Making Great Cocktails at Home and participates in many food and booze events like the Aspen Food & Wine Festival, New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail, the New York Bar Show, South Beach Food & Wine Festival, etc. Hey, how many bartenders do you know who are represented by the William Morris Agency?
The ingredients for a cable car cocktail wouldn’t immediately lead me to think I’d love it: spiced rum, orange Cura%uFFFDao and lemon sour. But this is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And that’s really what making great cocktails is all about: using relatively simple ingredients combined with time-honored techniques to create something special. Abou-Gamin’s cable car won Bon Appetit Magazine’s 2002 Drink of the Year. You can head over to The New Yorker so sample a cable car based on Tony’s own recipe—or try it for yourself at home.
Here’s how Abou-Gamin makes his cable car: In an ice-filled mixing glass, add 1 1/2 ounces Captain Morgan spiced rum, 3/4 ounce Marie Brizard orange Cura%uFFFDao and 1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon sour. Make fresh lemon sour by mixing two parts fresh-squeezed lemon juice with one part simple syrup. Shake until well blended. Strain into a chilled sugar-cinnamon frosted cocktail glass and garnish with an orange zest spiral. (Orange spirals can be easily cut fresh using a citrus zester.) To sugar-cinnamon frost a cocktail glass, first chill the glass, rub the rim’s circumference approximately 3/4 inch in depth with a lemon wedge, then dip into a bowl of superfine sugar (regular granulated sugar does not adhere as well) mixed with cinnamon.
Tony Abou-Gamin’s Modern Mixology DVD can be purchased at ModernMixologyDVD.com.