Cocktail Jesus, Run Amok in Detroit

By Bill Scott

As it is unmistakably evident, Detroit has been going through a kind of revival in recent years. With that, we have seen Detroit making the ranks on multiple ‘top destinations’ lists from very reputable and popular publications. Most recently, The New York Times published an article ranking Detroit 9th of ‘52 Places to Go in 2017.’ That’s 9th in the world, folks! The article appropriately states, “Detroit’s revitalization, after its 2013 bankruptcy filing, has long been building.”

Albeit, there are many great things that are contributing to the recovery of Detroit. However, the one that is irrefutable is that people have a real yearning for fine food and drink, and Detroit has the talent and diligence to provide it. This incredible turnaround has coined Detroit a new nickname, “America’s Great Comeback City.”

Although Detroit is no Hollywood, it certainly is attracting a distinct kind of celebrity these days. Most easily defined, they are food and drink connoisseurs; or rather, professional drunks. One of these scholars in particular is hailed a cocktail God, among Detroit’s finest hospitality workforce. The man, the legend, David Wondrich, otherwise known as the “Cocktail Jesus” has graced us with his presence.

David Wondrich is probably best known for authoring one of the most influential cocktail books of our time, “Imbibe!” Dave Kwiatkowski, proprietor of Sugar House refers to it as “The Sugar House Bible.” In an interview with Dave K. regarding Wondrich’s visit he said,

“It says a lot that guys of his caliber are coming here to talk about mixology. I think it lends credibility to Detroit, and supports the idea that the big cities are taking note of what we’re doing here.”

Mr. Wondrich is a historian and has a PH.D. in comparative literature. He is described as ‘one of the world’s foremost authorities on cocktails and their history.’ Moreover, he has been a contributor to a number of magazine publications.  Notably, he has been a long time contributor to esquire magazine, with articles dating as far back as 2005. This is where many of Sugar House’s 101 classic cocktails were inspired from. Regarding this, Dave K. stated,

“I owe Wondrich a lot because I based our bar program off of his writing. It really helped to identify what it was that I wanted to do here.”

Assuredly, David Wondrich’s visit wasn’t all leisure. We have The Daily Beast and Lot 40 to thank for his presence. Lot 40, a Canadian rye whiskey produced by Hiram Walker, sponsored his trip. The intention was to educate Midwestern professional bartenders and hospitality workers on the complexities of Canadian whiskey. As a historian, Wondrich also spoke on the history of drinking in Detroit. He just couldn’t help himself, he had to dedicate his last words to Detroit’s most famous cocktail…  

Wondrich held his presentation at Detroit’s historic ‘Detroit Athletic Club’ (DAC). Keep in mind, it was no mistake that Wondrich held his seminar there. Apart from being a long running private social club, their bar has significant historical cocktail relevance. The DAC has been named the unrefuted creator of one of the best gin concoctions known to man, the Last Word. Dating back to 1916, the Last Word first appeared on a DAC menu, later getting its revival in New York and Seattle. It soon became world-known. It currently reigns as one of Detroit’s most ordered classic cocktails.

Although Wondrich was in town for the seminar, the DAC was not his first, nor his last stop. Dave K. and David Wondrich, along with a host of Midwest’s best and brightest bartenders, spent the day marauding through Detroit’s hospitality district like scholarly savages. The group met up for breakfast at the Whitney before going to the seminar at the DAC. Next, they had to stop at Old Miami because according to Dave K, “Wondrich loves the Old Miami.” Then, Wondrich showed us how to make a proper Blue Blazer at the Sugar House before trotting off to Nancy Whiskey’s for another drink. They finished off the night with dinner (and more drinks) at Cliff Bell’s.

David Wondrich said that he was very impressed with the progress of Detroit. Saying that it’s grown so much since last time he was here, around two years ago. What this says about Detroit is extremely encouraging.

It’s experiences like this that give the Detroit Optimist Society the reassurance in their goal of shaping Detroit to be a capital of culinary convention.

Dave & Dave at the DAC

Dave & Dave at the DAC