Twenty Hours

That’s about how long it takes to get from Seattle to Singapore, if the gods of air travel are feeling benevolent and you happen to have the wind at your back (and a short layover in Tokyo sure doesn’t hurt).

But in 1902, 20 hours was the length of time it took to get from New York to Chicago, via one of the swankiest marvels to hit modern travel, the 20th Century Limited (in 1938, a new mechanical system cut the time down to only 16 hours). Running between Grand Central Station and LaSalle Street Station, this express passenger train was, in its heyday–it operated from 1902 to 1967–the most famous locomotive in the world. Designed in an Art Deco theme, with suave blues and grays offset by the specially crafted red carpet that was rolled out at station stops, the 20th Century Limited counted Theodore Roosevelt, Diamond Jim Brady and J.P. Morgan among its passengers over the years. And while the same distance can be covered today in just a couple of hours of flight time, Boeing has yet to design a passenger plane that can match the class, comfort and sheer spectacle of this railroad relic.

In 1939, a British bartender named C.A. Tuck created a mixological paean to the legendary train. But, without a bit of good fortune and the dedicated digging of cocktail archaeologist Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh, this drink would have gone the way of the train: into the history books, unknown to contemporary audiences. And that would have been a real shame–the Twentieth Century cocktail tastes like Art Deco in a glass. Backed by a good jolt of gin, the drink’s flavor comes from a lively mix of lemon juice, blonde Lillet and creme de cacao.

I don’t know if the Twentieth Century ever enjoyed much popularity–I find no mention of it in mid-century cocktail guides (Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide simply directs readers to the recipe for an Alexander). But thanks to the recent resurgence of classic cocktails, in the past few years the drink has appeared in drink manuals written by Dale DeGroff and Gary Regan, not to mention Doc’s own Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails.

Sipping this drink is like tasting another era. All aboard!

Twentieth Century

  • 1 1/2 ounces London dry gin
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounce Lillet
  • 3/4 ounce white creme de cacao

Shake well with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a curl of lemon peel.

* Note: In The Joy of Mixology, Gary Regan scales back the lemon, Lillet and cacao to 1/2 ounce of each; in The Craft of the Cocktail, Dale Degroff takes them back some more, to 1/4 ounce of each. I’m so pleased with Doc’s recipe, I haven’t had reason to try the others, but it’s good to know the options are out there.

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Filed Under: Gin

10 Responses to Twenty Hours

  1. One of ’em’s corn, and one of ’em’s pear.

    And both are authentic. The pear is from a family member. The corn is from a family’s member’s friend from church.

    Yes, I grew up in Georgia. Why do you ask?


  2. Anytime I see Mason jars or hand-written bottle labels in someone’s home bar, I figure something interesting is going on. I see I wasn’t wrong–and I envy you your generous family members / family member’s friend from church. Cheers–


  3. I realize this is a super old post, but I have been drinking this cocktail quite a bit lately and was wondering what brand of creme de cacao you use. All I can find around me is Jaquin’s, which for $10 a bottle is a deal I guess but I feel like its lacking something. Are there any other makers out there that have a taste that is a tad more complex? The jaquins just feels blunt and sugary.

  4. One of my favorite “forgotten” classics! Such an interesting and thought provokong mixture, unique and delicious anytime! Check out my site for other cool vintage drink ideas.

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