The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book

The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book

For 5 years, Frank Caiafa experimented with recipes and ingredients for The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book, which is available online and in stores today, May 17, 2016, via Penguin Books.

He sampled bitters, tested proportions, and swigged all but two of the more than 800 cocktails featured in the book (the two exceptions: a potentially toxic flower-based cocktail and one with an ingredient that’s no longer available). On more than one occasion, Caiafa woke his wife Margaret in a state of excitement to share a final version of a cocktail that was difficult to recreate.

In the cocktail world, a landscape that can often seem niche to non-professionals, Caiafa’s approach takes a delightfully educational feel. Perhaps the most unique thing about The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book is its departure from convention, its ability to make the eccentric task of multi-ingredient cocktail creation more approachable to beginners.

“I want everyone to know that they can make a cocktail and not worry about it- and take some of the stigma away from it,” Caiafa said in a celebratory toast at the book launch event held at Peacock Alley on May 3.

The format and Caiafa’s easy style support this ambition.

The “Home Bar” chapter of the book includes advice on basic tools, from coasters to corkscrews, as well as a brief section on technique. You’ll find several “hacks” in the content as well, such as infusing pre-made citrus bitters with cocoa nibs to create a unique version of cocoa bitters that can add that “What is that?” quality to many cocktails.

Most of the recipes featured in this book are recreations, some from the pre-Prohibition era, with a contemporary twist and refined Waldorf flair. The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book can certainly stand alone, though Caiafa notes in the “Acknowledgments” section that he consulted countless cocktail books and manuals in his research and sends his thanks to those whose influence is woven within the fabric of this text.

Two books of note played a special role in Caiafa’s research, both penned by a former Waldorf Astoria employee and cocktail enthusiast named Albert Stevens Crockett- Old Waldorf Bar Days (published in 1931) and The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book (published in 1934).

Archival display

Archival display

The 80-year gap between the publication of these books and Caiafa’s guide left a lot of ground to cover, which Caiafa dutifully charted over the years while still fulfilling his duties as Bar Manager of Peacock Alley.

“You had to taste spirits every night, whether you wanted to or not. That was like the ‘Dante’s Inferno’ part of the whole thing.

I have less interest in seven-ingredient cocktails now than ever. The book has taught me to enjoy simpler things,” he said.

Still, some of Caiafa’s personal favorite cocktails from the book are:

–          The “Creole Lady,” which calls for small-batch bourbon, Madeira and maraschino liqueur

–          The “Yacht Club,” which includes white or añejo rum, sweet vermouth, apricot liqueur and orange bitters

–          The “Ballantine,” made with gin, extra dry vermouth and a dash of absinthe and orange bitters

Ensuring guests enjoy a distinctive New York City experience without having to leave the hotel is part of the Waldorf Astoria brand promise. Caiafa brings this approach to Peacock Alley, located in the main lobby of the Waldorf Astoria just north of the famous clock, where the menu includes unique items that are hard-to-find elsewhere. Some of the cocktails found at Peacock Alley include honey harvested from the hotel’s rooftop beehives, barrel-aged spirits, and concoctions made with house-infused garnishes.

Also stocked at the bar will be copies of The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book. Guests and enthusiasts are encouraged to stop by to sample a cocktail and snag a copy. If luck would have it, Caiafa himself might even make an appearance to share his story, an anecdote, and a laugh.