I'll Have One of Those

In the pantheon of cocktails associated with New Orleans, which would include the Sazerac, Hurricane, and Hand Grenade, among others, relegated to the second-tier is the Ramos Gin Fizz.

When was the last time you were out enjoying all manner of adult libations and someone ordered a Ramos Gin Fizz? Bet you can’t remember when that was, and the truth of the matter is that’s a shame. Ramos concocted a very fine beverage and we don’t seem to be enjoying it any more.

Henry Charles Ramos was, by all accounts, a gentleman’s gentleman. Soft-spoken, and a man of grand talents “behind the stick” (an old term very little in use anymore, meaning the guy behind the bar).  Back then, it was hardly ever a woman. Women, in fact, were not even welcomed in bars. And there lies a tale for another column. Someday.

Ramos was quite partial to cool, truly refreshing, delicious drinks. And it was noted that in his bar, no one was allowed to get drunk. Henry did not suffer drunkards as he felt when that level of intoxication was reached, then enjoyment of the drink ceased. Henry was all about the enjoyment of the drink.

In 1888, he invented the drink that bears his name at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon, located at the corner of Carondelet and Gravier. The drink was not an overnight sensation. Henry C. Ramos went on to open his own drinking establishment, The Stag, in 1907, located opposite the Gravier Street entrance of the oft-lamented, long-gone, grand St. Charles Hotel.

At The Stag, Henry’s Original Gin Fizz became a smash hit. Henry became somewhat of a local celebrity. Everyone in New Orleans knew that the Ramos home at 726 North Rampart St. was the house of a good man. Then the unimaginable occurred.

The Stag closed its doors at the stroke of midnight, October 28, 1919. This was the beginning of the United States Prohibition against the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages. The Eighteenth Amendment to our nation’s Constitution would remain in effect until its repeal by the Twenty-First Amendment which took force of law on December 5, 1933.

It was said by more than one publication of the day that if all the saloon keepers had been like Mr. Henry C. Ramos, Prohibition would never have become the law of the land. During the 14 years of Prohibition, many bars in New Orleans and other cities around the nation flaunted the law. When Ramos closed and locked the doors of The Stag, in accordance with federal law, he never reopened them. And he never commercially made another Ramos Original Gin Fizz, nor did he see the end of Prohibition. He passed away in September, 1928.

And for years before his death, Carl, as Ramos was known to friends, was generous with the recipe of his namesake drink. He passed it out to anyone who asked.

Fortunately the story of the Ramos Gin Fizz does not end with the death of its inventor. Right after the repeal of Prohibition, a noted politician of the day, the Governor of the State of Louisiana, and soon to be U.S. Senator from that sovereign state, took a great liking to the way the drink was prepared at The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.

Going a bit further with the story, the governor really liked the Roosevelt Hotel itself … a lot. He loved to luxuriate in its grand atmosphere every chance he could, preferring the surroundings at the hotel over the rather drab décor of the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge.

Governor Huey Long was on a fast-track to challenging President Franklin Roosevelt for that very office, some said. Long’s fast-track life extended to his desire to get from the Mansion to the Roosevelt in the least possible time. The roads in use at that time were winding affairs, following the curves of the Mississippi River.

Long created and built Airline Highway, U.S.61, practically a straight line from North Boulevard in downtown Baton Rouge where the Old Governor’s Mansion is located to the back door of the Roosevelt Hotel. It was called Airline Highway because it was, at the time, the shortest and straightest distance between those two points. The fact that it passes by Moisant Field, one of the airports serving New Orleans and now known as Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, is merely coincidental.

Back to the Long connection with the Ramos Gin Fizz, Huey was in New York City in 1935, ostensibly on Louisiana’s business, but actually to use the power of the New York news media to gain coverage about his attacks on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program. He chose the Hotel New Yorker as his home away from the mansion and The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, ironically named for the President’s cousin, former President Theodore Roosevelt.

Long went down to the hotel’s bar and ordered his favorite drink, a Ramos Gin Fizz. What arrived at his table not only dismayed him, but angered him. He arranged, on the spot, for the head bartender of the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans to immediately beat a path to New York, under the auspices of teaching New Yorkers how to properly make Long’s beloved gin fizz. It’s good to be the Kingfish.

Within just a few days, Huey Long, the many “shakers” of the bar staff at the Hotel New Yorker, and the head bartender from the Roosevelt Hotel all were focused on the proper construction of the Ramos Gin Fizz.  Long said to all those gathered, singling out the Roosevelt Hotel’s bartender, “Now this here chap knows how to mix a Ramos Gin Fizz,” then he took full advantage of the New York media’s attention to his “stunt” to pillory President Roosevelt and his policies.

Years after Huey’s assassination in the state capital building he constructed, along came keystone New Orleans writer and raconteur,Thomas Lanier Williams III, whom we all know better as “Tennessee”. He too loved the Ramos Gin Fizz, and was often seen in interviews enjoying one … or two … or more, at just about every hour of the day.    

It is most apropos with the 26th edition of the Tennessee Williams Festival almost upon us that we rekindle our love of the Ramos Gin Fizz, savoring the creamy, smooth and aromatic aspects of a cocktail that has stood the test of time and outlasted the many drinking fads that have come and gone in the span of 125 years.

The Hendrick's Ramos Gin Fizz
(with special thanks to Hendrick’s Gin)

1.5 oz. Hendrick's Gin
.5 oz. fresh strained lemon juice
.25 oz. fresh strained lime juice
.75 oz. simple syrup
1 egg white
1 oz. heavy cream
.25 oz. whole milk (optional)
3  drops of orange flower water

Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker without ice, seal and “dry shake” with passion for approximately 60-90 seconds, to whip egg whites and gain correct consistency. Do NOT use a blender.

Then re-open the shaker, adding ice, seal and shake vigorously until contents are well chilled.

Strain contents into Delmonico Cocktail Glass; top with a dash of soda water and lemon garnish.

The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival will take place at various venues in the French Quarter, March 21-25. Hendrick’s Gin will be featured at a number of the activities.


Ed. note: For more images and articles selected and written by Helena "Tiare" Olsen, such as the image featured with this article, visit her website.

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