Last Word cocktail
Words by Simon Difford
Made with gin, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and lime juice, traditionally in equal parts, shaken with ice and served straight-up, the Last Word is thought to date from immediately prior to Prohibition but owes its present-day popularity to being reincarnated in 2003 by Murray Stenson during his tenure at Seattle's Zig Zag Cafe.
Skip to 20 Last Word riffs below
The earliest known written reference to the Last Word is among a list of cocktail names in a 1916 souvenir menu sent members of the Detroit Athletic Club with the club's July-August 1916 issue of its magazine. There is no accompanying recipe, just the cocktail's name and its respective price among the other cocktails listed, at 35 Cents the Last Word is twice the price of a Manhattan.
The Last Word's link to the Detroit Athletic Club is affirmed by notes accompanying the recipe in Ted Saucier's 1951 cocktail book Bottoms Up!.
LAST WORDTed Saucier, 1951
Courtesy Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit
This cocktail was first introduced here around thirty years ago by Frank Fogarty, who was very well known in vaudeville. He was called the 'Dublin Minstrel,' and was a very fine monologue artist.
1/4 dry gin
1/4 lime juice
Serve in cocktail glass.
Detroit Athletic Club
The Detroit Athletic Club, or the DAC, was established in 1887 by a bunch of young athletes with a clubhouse on Detroit's Woodward Avenue. The DAC was then reborn in 1913 by a group of prominent Detroit automotive and industrial leaders who built the magnificent six-story Clubhouse on Madison Avenue which opened in 1915 and remains the home of the club to this day.
Bartenders standing behind Detroit Athletic Club bar. Image uncovered by Mitch Lustig and courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library
Known as the 'The Dublin Minstrel', Frank Fogarty was a famous American theatre entertainer who was born in County Tipperary, Ireland but from the age of two grew up and lived on Warren Street, Brooklyn. He broke into vaudeville (akin to today's stand-up comedy) in 1911 when he performed at the Orpheum in Brooklyn and became famous for his monologues, winning the New York Morning Telegraph contest for the most popular vaudeville performer in 1912. He typically opened his performance with a song and finished with a recitation - some surmise that this is where the drink's Last Word name emanates. Fogarty was quite a speaker, who also dabbled in politics being elected president of the vaudeville actors union in 1914.
Thanks to that July 1916 dated menu it's certain that the Last Word was being served at the DAC at least five months before Fogerty is known to have visited the Club in December 1916.
Saucier's "around thirty years" prior to the 1951 publication date of his book puts Fogerty's "introducing the Last Word around here" circa 1920, a mere four years off when the Last Word appeared in that commemorative menu. And when Saucier says "around here," he means New York City, where his book was published and Fogerty lived and performed. Saucier was also the publicist for New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Hence, we can perhaps assume that Fogerty enjoyed a Last Word cocktail while at the club in December 1916, so much so, that he asked for the recipe to enable him to request the cocktail at bars back in New York. Hence, his "introducing the Last Word around here" [New York] just prior to Prohibition. It could be that, knowing Fogerty was booked to visit that the DAC created the Last Word in his honour, hence its premium price and inclusion in that commemorative menu. I favour the Last Word originating at the DAC to the other theory, that Fogerty introduced the cocktail to the DAC during an earlier visit.
The Last Word continued to be popular after Prohibition and so found its way into in Ted Saucier's book. However, like so many cocktails the Last Word fell out of favour to be forgotten. That was until 2003, when Murray Stenson, a bartender at the Zig Zag Café in Seattle, USA found the recipe in a 1952 copy of Saucier's book. Murray added the cocktail to the menu at the Zig Zag Café where it was well-received by regulars. As Tan Vinh wrote in The Seattle Times on 11th March 2009, "The drink became a cult hit around Seattle, then Portland and was eventually picked up at cocktail dens in New York City, where many bartending trends are set. The Last Word then started to appear on drink menus in Chicago and San Francisco and spread to several cities in Europe - especially around London and Amsterdam - and beyond."
Over on America's East Coast, when Audrey Saunders opened Manhattan's Pegu Club in 2005, the Last Word was one of the cocktails championed by her team, including Phil Ward, the man responsible for both the Division Bell and the Final Ward, the best-known riff on the Last Word.
The DAC was made aware of the Last Word cocktail when a Seattle newspaper asked about the popular cocktail that was so popular in Seattle. The DAC embraced the Last Word cocktail, returning it to its menu in 2009 and even adding a rooftop lounge under the same name.
20 Last Word variations
Both the Last Word's name and equal parts recipe lend itself to adaptation. I prefer a Last Word recipe with the gin dialled up. Follows 20 of the many riffs on a the classic recipe:
With: Irish whiskey, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice.
We say: A review on the classic, substituting Irish whiskey for gin. Named after Frank Fogarty, a vaudeville performed known as the Dublin Minstrel.
With: Genever oude, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice.
We say: A genever-based variation on the classic Last Word cocktail.
Bird is the Word No.1
With: Tequila, Yellow Chartreuse, apricot brandy liqueur and lemon juice.
We say: To quote Fraser Campbell, the drink's creator, "influenced primarily by "The Last Word" with hints of "Yellow Parrot ...and a tequila base."
Bird is the Word No.2
With: Grappa, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, lime juice and chocolate bitters.
We say: A grappa-based Last Word by way of Denmark.
With: Mezcal, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice.
We say: A mezcal-based Last Word. It works! End of argument.
With: Rye whiskey, Green Chartreuse, maraschino and lemon juice.
We say: In this twist, whiskey replaces the gin, and Mr Ward switches citrus fruits from lime to lemon.
With: Tequila, Green chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, lavender sugar syrup, lime juice and lavender bitters.
We say: Tequila replaces gin in this riff on the classic, with the amount of maraschino slightly reduced to accomdate the introduction of lavender syrup, which in turn is balanced by a dash of lavender bitters.
Last Word (Difford's recipe)
With: Gin, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice.
We say: Chartreuse devotees will loves this balanced, tangy drink.
With: Equal parts genever, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice.
We say: A Last Word made with genever in place of London dry gin.
With: Rye whiskey, Suze, Yellow Chartreuse, lemon juice, lime juice, maraschino liqueur and Benedictine D.O.M.
We say: A boozy, bittersweet and aromatic riff.
Marvin's Last Word
With: Equal parts gin, mastiha, Green Chartreuse and lime juice.
We say: The distinctive notes of mastiha and Chartreuse shine through in this Greek riff.
Mon Dernier Mot
With: Cognac, Yellow Chartreuse, ginger liqueur, and lemon juice.
We say: A cognac-based ginger riff on a Last Word.
With: Equal parts rye, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine and lemon juice.
We say: The robust flavours of rye combine harmoniously with the other ingredients.
Naked & Famous
With: Equal parts mezcal, Italian red aperitivo, Yellow Chartreuse, and lime juice.
We say: Mezcal adds earthy smoky complexity to this bittersweet, citrusy, fresh salmon pink aperitivo.
Next To Last Word
With: Equal parts gin, elderflower liqueur, maraschino liqueur and lemon juice.
We say: A floral riff
With: Mezcal, lime juice, Yellow Chartreuse, agave syrup and maraschino liqueur.
We say: Mezcal dominates in this Californian riff.
With: Bourbon, amaro, bitter aperitivo, and lemon juice.
We say: Bittersweet with underlying bourbon character and lemon zestiness.
Le Premier Word
With: Gin, Green Chartreuse, lemon juice, and medium dry cider.
We say: A cider top eases drinkers into this spirit forward, Chartreuse heavy riff on the classic.
With: gin, maraschino liquer, Green chartresue, Islay Scotch single whisky and lemon juice.
We say: A boozy riff on the Last Word made more interesting by subtle notes of peated Islay whisky.
With: Equal parts rum, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice.
We say: Punchy pot-still rum with the equally powerful notes of Green Chartreuse supported by Maraschino liqueur with lime zestiness.