We were comparing youthful experiences with alcohol and discovered that it was not uncommon to have your first mixed drink in a Chinese restaurant. Not a sleek, spare sushi bar or even a Szechuan café — no, it was a quasi-Polynesian Chop Suey Palace with tired décor and waiters in threadbare red jackets who didn’t ask for ID.
If we could walk back into that dark and dreamy place in the Chinatown of our youth and get behind the bar, this is the drink we’d put together. Serve it with a pu-pu platter or your next bag of take-out. Try ordering one in a good cocktail bar — we think your bartender will be intrigued when you ask for “an Old-Fashioned in Chinatown.”
To an empty shaker, add:
1 heaping teaspoon canned Mandarin Oranges
2-3 chunks canned Pineapple
2 Maraschino Cherries
1 barspoon maraschino cherry syrup
3 ounces Bourbon
1 ounce homemade ginger syrup (recipe to follow)
1 heavy dash Angostura Orange Bitters
Pinch 5 Spice Powder
Muddle well. Add ice.
Shake vigorously. Strain into an ice-filled glass. Top with club soda and stir. Garnish with a cherry and pineapple spear. Another tiny whisper of 5 Spice Powder over the top of the drink adds fragrance.
Homemade Ginger Syrup
Take a generous “hand” of unpeeled fresh ginger and chop it thoroughly — alternately, hack it up and throw it in a food processor. Measure the result and add it to a saucepan along with 1.5 times the same amount of water (for example: if you wind up with 1 cup of ginger, use 1.5 cups of water). Bring to a boil then simmer for 30 minutes.
Let cool for a minute or two, then strain and measure the remaining water (I strain mine into a large heat-worthy measuring bowl). Add an equal amount of sugar (1 cup water gets 1 cup sugar) to the warm ginger-water and keep stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. If you’re not going to use it right away, add a jot of white rum or vodka as a preservative and refrigerate. Keeps for about a week.
(Quickie-Cheat: substitute ginger ale for the club soda in the cocktail above and leave out the ginger syrup.)
Always drink responsibly; always drink well.