By ERIC FELTEN
Wall Street hasn't always been the happy place it is today. In the early 1880s an investment house of which former president Ulysses Grant and his son Buck were hapless partners had been paying out dividends of some 40% annually, fueled by a railway bubble and, unbeknownst to the Grants, some creative kiting. When the scheme finally unraveled in the spring of 1884, the firm went bust, and with it the Marine Bank of New York, the Metropolitan Bank and scores of other companies. The old warrior president was wiped out, and he wasn't the only one. The Panic of 1884 was relatively short-lived, but severe enough in the moment that the men of the Stock Exchange were put off their liquor.
2 oz calvados
½ oz yellow Chartreuse
½ oz Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
Shake with ice and strain into a stemmed cocktail glass.
2 oz yellow Chartreuse
Wrap a large, thin slice of lemon peel inside a cocktail glass. Fill with crushed ice and top with Chartreuse.
A scribbler for the New York Times was tippling in a bar off Wall Street when he noticed eight brokers come in for some restoratives. But no whisky did they drink. Instead, there were orders for Vichy water and milk, Apollinaris water, soda water and Angostura bitters, and other Alka-Seltzer equivalents of the day. "Is it possible," the reporter asked, "that the recent severe scourging that Wall-street has received has taught its frequenters to practice works meet for repentance?"
The sad spectacle made the writer muse on the death, just weeks before, of a Wall Street speculator who had never let the occasional catastrophic reversal get in the way of his enjoyment of food or drink: Sam Ward. Though to describe Ward as a speculator is to do a disservice to the memory of one of the most remarkable characters of the 19th century. Born to a Wall Street fortune that he promptly lost once he had his hands on it, Ward chased new riches in the California gold rush, and later ended his days back in New York, dabbling in the markets once again. But it was before that last chapter that he earned his fame, becoming the most successful peddler of influence Washington had ever known. Ward was the "King of the Lobby," but the honor of which he was particularly proud was that a cocktail bore his name.
Ward achieved prominence and power by hosting the best dinners in the capital. "He tempted men not with the purse," wrote the New York Tribune, eulogizing Ward, "but with banquets, graced by vivacious company, and the conversation of wits and people of the world." Ward -- whose sister was the poet, and author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," Julia Ward Howe -- counted among his friends a crowd as diverse as Otto von Bismarck, Victor Hugo, Charles Darwin and Oscar Wilde.
But even more notable than the charming banter was the marvelous food and magnificent drink he served. Ward was recognized as perhaps the most knowledgeable foodie of his generation. As the Tribune put it, "in all that belonged to the aesthetics of the kitchen and the dining-room, he became one of the highest of living authorities." To get a sense of the odd and potent combination of talents Ward brought to his table, imagine a cross between Pamela Harriman and Julia Child.
"A true cosmopolitan, a prince of good fellows, was Sam Ward," raved the Boston magazine "The Literary World." But other journalists were not so kind. Stephen Fiske, in his 1884 book "Off-hand Portraits of Prominent New Yorkers" denounced Ward as a poseur who "learned the art of dining from books," and who "could influence only those Congressmen who were willing to barter their votes for viands."
Ward's niece, Mrs. Winthrop Chandler, would remember him more generously. In her "Roman Spring Memoirs," she would write that, to maintain his delicate and discerning palate, Ward avoided hard liquor, pepper and mustard. "The only liquor he approved was yellow Chartreuse, [with which] he invented a drink called a 'Sam Ward.'" She described how the drink was made: A long, thin slice of lemon peel was wrapped around the inside of a cocktail glass, which was then filled with crushed ice and doused with the Chartreuse. "He told me he was satisfied to have given his name to this as a claim to remembrance," Chandler wrote. Ward had pointed out to her "that only a very few names were permanently associated with food and drink."
And indeed, that's how the New York Times reporter remembered Ward as he contemplated the sad brokers nursing their bromides. "The drink that bears his name will probably survive until the millennium," the Timesman predicted. "Long after men have forgotten the inventor of this seductive tipple his name will be on the lips of club-men and other sybarites, who will say, 'Make me a Sam Ward, please.'"
The reporter was only off by about a century. Within a decade the Sam Ward had become a quaint anachronism, as the taste in cocktails turned away from the sweet and simple toward the drier and more complex. By 1897, the most popular drink in New York using yellow Chartreuse was no longer the Sam Ward but an upstart concoction called the Widow's Kiss. The drink was created by George J. Kappeler, author of an 1895 bar guide, "Modern American Drinks," that is much sought after by collectors of vintage cocktail texts. In his day, Kappeler was described by the New York Herald as being "the head of the drink laboratory connected with the Holland house, which has a reputation for the excellence of its damp delights." The Herald spoke particularly well of the Widow's Kiss, calling it "the most passionate poem which the liquor laureates of the Holland house hand out." The drink was made of two parts apple brandy to one part each yellow Chartreuse and Benedictine, along with a dash of Angostura bitters.
The Widow's Kiss isn't bad at all, especially if it is constructed with the French apple brandy, calvados, as recommended by cocktail archeologist Ted Haigh. But even with that specification, the Widow's Kiss is still way too sweet for modern tastes. Halve the amount of the liqueurs in the mix and you have a drink worthy of a place in the cocktail canon.
As for the Sam Ward, though it may never achieve its former currency the drink should at least be among the standard repertoire of New York and D.C. bartenders -- a memento of those long ago days when financial markets were wrecked by feckless speculation and lobbyists ruled Washington.
Mr. Felten is the author of "How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well" (Agate Surrey). Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W9