Before the bar burned down, Joe Scialom served everyone from English royalty to Indian Sikhs. The Jewish bartender began his career at Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo, where he invented his most famous drink, the Suffering Bastard, made from gin, brandy, lime juice, bitters and ginger ale. But in 1952, nationalist mobs razed the hotel, and Scialom, like many Jews, was banished from Cairo during the Suez Crisis. He immigrated to the United States and was quickly hired by Conrad Hilton, helping open bars across the world.
Bartenders like Scialom were key to the evolution of cocktails; they created them, wrote them down and passed them on. But despite Scialom's fame, the history of the cocktail is not particularly Jewish. It is actually an English concoction "perfected, iced and popularized" in America, says David Wondrich, the James Beard Award-winning cocktail historian, who defines the cocktail as "a short, iced mixture of spirituous and other ingredients." By the time Prohibition began, Jews did make up a significant portion of the alcohol industry--most often in the whiskey business, working as distillers or distributors.
But a smaller cohort of Jews also made their mark as cocktail bartenders. One of the earliest was Jacob "Jack" Grohusko, a Jewish immigrant from the United Kingdom. Born in 1876, Grohusko got his start bartending at hotels before moving to Baracca's in lower Manhattan. Over the next few decades, he published several editions of his popular Jack's Manual, a handbook of nearly 400 cocktail recipes. This book is where the Brooklyn cocktail (originally made with Amer Picon bitters, Maraschino, rye whiskey and vermouth), perhaps designed to rival the Manhattan, made its first appearance--and Grohusko may have been the drink's inventor. "He's certainly the best candidate we have," says Wondrich.
Then there's Joel Rinaldo, also Jewish, who ran a three-floor chili parlor for actors and celebrities called Joel's. "Everybody who's anybody from the New York theater went there and hung out and partied," Won drich says. It's possible that Rinaldo, born in 1870, invented the Blue Moon, a popular pre-Prohibition drink. "It was always associated with him, and it was the signature drink of Joel's." Although Rinaldo never published his recipe, modern iterations usually contain gin, lemon juice and either creme de violette or creme yvette.
These Jewish bartenders, however, rarely brought their religious identity into their work, says Wondrich...