Pendennis Club
Pendennis Club

Old Fashioned Cocktail and Louisville’s Pendennis Club image 1

Old Fashioned Cocktail and Louisville’s Pendennis Club

Words by Simon Difford

Over the years, various people and bars have claimed to have created the Old Fashioned and for years the most vociferous of these come from Louisville's private Pendennis Club.

In his 1931 Old Waldorf Bar Days, Albert Stevens Crocket, writes of the Old Fashioned, "This was brought to the Old Waldorf in the days of the 'sit-down' Bar, and was introduced by, or in the honor of, Col. James E. Pepper, of Kentucky, a proprietor of a celebrated whiskey of the period. It was said to have been the invention of a bartender at the famous Pendennis Club in Louisville, of which Col. Pepper was a member."

Crocket would appear to corroborate the Old Fashioned being created by a bartender at the Pendennis Club in Louisville. The club maintains that the bartender was Martin Cuneo, and that he made the drink for a Kentucky Colonel (and bourbon distiller) named James E. Pepper sometime between 1889 and 1895. In those days the clubhouse was situated at the old Belknap family mansion located between Third and Fourth Streets on the south side of Walnut Street (now Muhammad Ali Blvd.) in Louisville. This was torn down and replaced by the current opulent Georgian clubhouse, located about a block to the east, at 218 West Walnut Street, which opened in late 1928.

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The original Pendennis clubhouse, circa 1906

There are numerous references to the Old Fashioned that pre-date the drink that Martin Cuneo made for Colonel Pepper, so the Pendennis Club cannot be the drink's birthplace. The club accepts that the drink's origin pre-dates 1889/1895 but maintains that Martin Cuneo created the version of the Old Fashioned with added muddled fruit and sugar syrup.

So it's certain that the Old Fashioned was not created at the Pendennis but perhaps the fruity version of the drink, which became the regular way the drink was served for decades in America, was invented at the Pendennis?

I have a fondness for the Pendennis and have enjoyed drinking Old Fashioneds at the club so I'd very much like to believe that at least the fruity version of the Old Fashioned originated there. Sadly, apart from a 2009 paper produced by the Club there is no known evidence to support this and the recipe given by Crocket in Old Waldorf Bar Days has no mention of muddled fruit so discrediting the only supportive evidence there is. More damming is the 1914 Drinks book published by Jacques Straub, a former manager at the Pendennis Club, which omits fruit in the Old Fashioned entry and makes no mention of the cocktail being created at the club where he worked for two decades.