Words by: Ian Cameron
Albert Stevens Crockett, author of the Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, was born just over a century ago. An old school newspaperman, of considerable charm and expertise, Albert Stevens Crockett was born in Solomons, Maryland, in 1873. He would live, as a bon vivant, adventurer and bar fly, to the ripe old age of 96.
Over his long career, Crockett wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily Telegraph, the New York Herald and the New York Times, among others, most often as a foreign correspondent. He would later be referred to, in an renowned article on expense account manipulation, as "the dean of correspondents".
A cultural historian, some way ahead of his time, A. S. Crockett's interests ran from foreign affairs, to gossip, to booze. At the New York Herald, he learned to appreciate fine hotels and socialized with the likes of "Diamond" Jim Brady.
So in his volumes on the Waldorf - Old Waldorf Bar Days (published after the original Waldorf was no more) and The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book (published after Repeal) - he brought his journalistic instincts to bear on matters liquid.
Crockett's books record the classic, old school cocktails of American bartending, drinks based largely around vermouth and bitters, with a myriad variations on a common theme.
Less recipe books than recollections of a vanished era, he subtitled one "a glossary for the use of antiquarians and students of American mores".
But the books have information, too. Want to hear about the origins of the Bronx? Crockett got Johnnie Solon's account of its creation, first hand. So for cocktail historians and dedicated classical bartenders today, Crockett's books are a must-read - even though much of the author's interest lies more in the culture and the characters than the cocktails themselves.
Crockett's books brought him no little celebrity. He popped up, bizarrely, advertising Heublein Club Cocktails in 1938:
"Albert Stevens Crockett, author of The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, first tasted CLUB COCKTAILS twenty-five years ago.
Today he says, "I still consider CLUB COCKTAILS the ultimate of perfection."
Despite this relative celebrity, Crockett continued as a working journalist.
And continued. And continued some more.
He was a fixture in the grill of the Overseas Press Club of America pretty much until he died aged 96 - in 1965, aged 92, he was recorded as its oldest living member.
Crockett's interests were nothing if not diverse. His account of a newspaperman's life, masquerading as a biography of his publisher and friend James Gordon Bennett, is still much-cited. A man of Catholic tastes, Crockett became a passionate believer in spiritualism after losing his step-daughter. His 1920 book on their communications beyond the grave received favourable reviews, though he stepped down from the board of the American Society for Psychical Research a couple of decades later.
But it is his cocktail books that have stood the test of time, and his Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, currently in print, is undergoing a great revival.