The Bronx is an early Martini Variant. So early, in fact, that it may actually predate the Martini itself. Or at the very least, it was created during that time period where the Martini was slowly evolving from the Martinez to the final version of the Dry Martini the world later came to know. Nevertheless it was a unique creation, and enjoyed considerable popularity for a good length of time.
The Bronx is, in effect, a Perfect Martini with a little freshly squeezed orange juice. That might not seem like much of a big deal right now, but it is reputed to have been the very first cocktail to ever use freshly squeezed juice. Other than the lemon/lime juice used for its sour element. So at the time of its creation, around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, it was actually at the forefront of mixology.
The Bronx is reputed to have been created in the original Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan, which stood where the Empire State Building stands today. Though it has several creation claims, I attribute it to the bartender Johnny Solon. Partly since it is the best documented of the various claims. And partly because it is a great story. One I shall paraphrase:
The Solon Story
This comes from a book written by Albert Stevens Crockett, the official historian of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel:
“One day Solon was making a Duplex when Traverson, the head waiter, came over saying he had a customer who didn’t believe he could create a new cocktail. The Duplex was a very old-world style cocktail comprised of equal parts of French and Italian Vermouth (Dry and Sweet), shaken up with a squeezed orange peel or a couple dashes of Orange Bitters.
Solon expanded on this idea, putting two jiggers of Gin into a mixing glass, then adding one jigger of freshly squeezed orange juice and a dash each of French and Italian Vermouth. He shook it up, didn’t taste it himself but rather gave it to Traverson to try – who first sipped it, then swallowed it. He was impressed, and instructed Solon to make another for the customer. And then to stock up on oranges, for he intended to sell a lot of them at lunch.
He did. Soon they were using a case of oranges a day. Soon after, several cases.”
A Creation Myth
I don’t know whether this story is true or not. But it certainly has the ring of truth to it to me. If it didn’t happen exactly this way, then this story is merely an amalgam of several similar events. I’ve experienced situations very similar to this one personally more times than I can count.
So, assuming that Solon created the Bronx, when did he create it? Well it must have been sometime between 1899 (when he started working there) and 1906 (when the cocktail first appears in print). It is also reputed to have been named for the newly opened Bronx Zoo. This opened in 1899, but will have likely been considered “new” for a few years.
I should note that I have come across many different recipes for the Bronx over time. Some are closer to being a gin and orange juice that happens to have a splash of vermouth in them. While on the other extreme I find a Perfect Martini coloured with a dash of orange juice. Either way, the Bronx should only be made by using freshly squeezed orange juice. If you’ve only got some pasteurized stuff coming out of a carton, don’t bother.
Since a jigger is ~22ml to a shot’s 25ml, the original recipe is quite easy to follow. Pour into a mixing glass: ~two shots gin; the juice of half an orange (measure it to a full shot if you’re concerned about exactness); and then ~10ml each of both sweet and dry vermouths. Some recipes I have seen also call for a dash of orange bitters, like the Duplex it was based on.
Either way, shake it all up and double strain it out into a martini glass or equivalent. Then garnish with a twist of orange zest.
For the sake of completeness I’ll note three classic variants to the Bronx, though none of them really stand out: a Bloody Bronx uses the juice of a Blood Orange instead of the regular; a Golden Bronx adds an egg yolk to the classic; while a Silver Bronx instead adds an egg white.
Try them out if you like. But the original is a classic for a reason, while they are not.