Detroit has been through a lot lately. But in the 1920s, the Motor City was a different place with a bustling economy whose better days were still ahead of it. Indeed, the Roaring Twenties roared a little bit louder in Detroit. During Prohibition, the city’s proximity to Canada — Windsor, Ontario is just across the bridge — made it a haven for bootleggers running liquor down from up north. The geographic adjective of Canadian Club is no accident, after all.
Detroit was awash in booze, which bred border-area crime much as the drug trade does these days along the Southern border. Four brothers Bernstein – Abe, Joe, Raymond, and Izzy — rose to power in the most powerful outfit around, The Purple Gang. Despite a moniker that sounds more Velvet Mafia than Scarface, the Purple Gang was into all manner of vice, and their fearsome methods were so ruthless that even mighty Al Capone struck deals rather than take them on.
All of this is to say that in 1920s, despite national prohibition, a drink in Detroit was not hard to come by. Far removed from the riverfront violence, the swells would wet their beaks at the bar at Detroit Athletic Club. This week’s cocktail, the Last Word, was invented there in 1926.
The Last Word
¾ oz. gin
¾ oz. green Chartreuse
¾ oz. maraschino liqueur
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
Shake ingredients with ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
The story of the Last Word doesn’t end with the Detroit Athletic Club, however. As with many Prohibition-era cocktails, it sank into oblivion over the years. It was rescued by a bartender from Seattle. Murry Stenson at the Zig Zag Cafe found it in an old bar manual and the the drink’s popularity has spread. It falls into that same “secret handshake” category as the Aviation and the Corpse Reviver No. 2. If it’s on a bar’s drinks list, the place is at least trying to head in the right direction.
Let us not leave the Last Word without noting its epoch-spanning status. Created in an old-economy Midwest city of Henry Ford and heavy manufacturing, the drink was reborn in the archetypal new-economy city of Bill Gates and Amazon. To a city that can support craft cocktail bars from a city that can no longer sustain a single supermarket. The Last Word; a toast to the slipstream of history.