Sidecar. Aviation. Cadillac. 20th Century.
What do these classic cocktails have in common? Travel and transportation inspired their names. The first three need no explanation, the last—made of dry gin, Lillet, white creme de cacao, and lemon juice—certainly does.
Most likely, the swankiest rail travel in American history, the Twentieth Century Limited, was an overnight train from New York to Chicago. During its 65-year run from 1902 to 1967, the train carried who’s who of celebrities and tycoons, from Bob Hope and Bette Davis to the Wrigleys and Fields. Today’s “red carpet treatment” phrase was probably cemented into pop culture because guests walked a ruby red carpet when boarding in New York.
An iconic symbol of status, the Twentieth Century Limited train was featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 movie, North by Northwest, starring Carey Grant, who played ad executive Roger Thornhill. Think of the film like the original Mad Men. Like the modern-day TV show, cocktails were so prominent, especially in the scenes on the train, they deserved a supporting role credit; however, the 20th Century cocktail wasn’t one of the cocktails featured during the film.
So, if the cocktail wasn’t created as the train’s signature cocktail, much like hotels do today, how did it get its name? The train was so remarkable, it lent inspiration across the pond as well. The drink was created and named by an English barkeep named C.A. Tuck, who ran the bar at London’s chic Café Royal.
The 20th Century cocktail’s first print appearance was in the 1937 Cafe Royal Cocktail Book—a collection of cocktail recipes popular in the London bar scene at the time written by William J. Tarling, president of the UK Bartenders’ Guild. (If you can get your hands on an original copy of Cafe Royal, the gods must be smiling on you; it only had one print run).
Now, let’s talk about the ingredients Mr. Tuck swirled together originally. At first glance, any drink with creme de cacao (except for a Grasshopper by famed bartender Jeffery Morgenthaler) has most libation literati running. Understandably so. Most drinks with a syrupy chocolate component are usually oversweet. However, since the 20th Century is a gin dominant cocktail, there’s cause for pause. The lemon and chocolate flavors seem to do a weird, elegant dance. The cocktail starts with a bright citrus pow on the palate. It ends with a mysterious, chocolatey note on the finish.
Interest piqued? At the very least, is your creme de cacao bias challenged a tiny bit? Well then, it’s time to give the 20th Century a try. For the traditionalists, the original recipe used Kina Lillet. For the truest C.A. Tuck recreation, substitute the Lillet with Cocchi Americano.
The 20th Century Cocktail
- 1/2 oz. Gin
- 3/4 oz. Kina Lillet
- 1/2 oz. Crème de Cacao
- 3/4 oz. Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
- Lemon Twist (for garnish)
Preparation: Add ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake until chilled (about 15 seconds). Fine strain into a chilled coupe, and top with a lemon twist.