Tucked in a corner of the Times Square Subway Station by the 42nd Street shuttle is an unobtrusive door with a sign overhead that says Knickerbocker.
At the turn of the 20th century that door took subway riders directly into the bar at John Jacob Astor's famous Knickerbocker Hotel. Referred to as the 42nd Street [Country] Club because it was located in the old Knickerbocker Hotel on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway smack dab in the middle of Times Square, it was a popular pre Prohibition hang out for the glitterati of the Edwardian age.
The "Knick" was built in 1906 and closed in 1921, a short 15 years after opening, most likely a victim of Prohibition. Yet in those 15 years the Knick was host to many of the day's rich and famous notables and the name still carries an unmatched aura of lavish luxury and entertainment. Stories abound of over-the-top parties, elegantly attired guests, flowing Champagne and the elite of the era's high society stopping by for a vacation or just popping in for a cocktail or a gathering. The history, guests and stories are legend. Enrico Caruso lived there with his family because it was close to the Met. On Armistice Day he went out on his balcony and led the cheering crowds below in the Star Spangled Banner. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "This Side of Paradise" and courted Zelda there and he would make it rain twenties for the Knickerbocker staff during his stay.
But the story that piqued my interest the most was the Knickerbocker's claim to the invention of the the Martini. According to their website history page, John D. Rockefeller supposedly bragged to his friends about the great new "martini" cocktail created for him over at the Knick. Of course that claim post-dates the first printed recipe for the cocktail in an 1888 bar guide making the claim somewhat dubious.
Harry Johnson's New and Improved Bartender's Manual 1888
What bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia most likely made for Doc Rockefeller was not today's gin and dry vermouth cocktail but the Perfect Martini, a cocktail that employed gin with dry and sweet vermouth. It's much closer to the original martini recipes of the late 1800s than today's drier gin and vermouth iteration. Note that the present day Knickerbocker Martini Recipe uses Tanqueray 10 Gin, Dolin Dry Vermouth, Cocchi Torino Vermouth, orange and citrus bitters with a lemon twist; these are similar to the ingredients and flavor profile of Johnson's recipe above. The Knickerbocker recipe is almost like a martini recipe time-bridge from the sweet gin and vermouth cocktails from bygone days to the very dry gin and vermouth drink of the modern era.
I find the vintage version is a less harsh, warmer and friendlier cocktail that makes me feel like I've just been cuddled by Mrs. Doubtfire, it's a pretty color too. When I make mine I use a London Dry Gin, Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth and Martini & Rosso Sweet Vermouth.
2 Oz. Dry Gin
1/2 Oz. Dry Vermouth
1/2 Oz. Sweet Vermouth
Dash Orange Bitters
Stir ingredients with ice, double strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish then serve.