Fashion mavens know that if you wait long enough, trends from the past eventually turn up again. It’s not so different with cocktails, and now Bellocq, located in the Hotel Modern, has revived a drink that was hugely popular in the 19th century.
It’s called the cobbler, and it arrived in the 1820s, reaching its peak just before the Civil War. Its original ingredients were fortified wine, sugar and occasionally citrus; the drink was garnished with fruit. What defined the cobbler, however, were its novel accessories: ice and a straw.
In the days before refrigeration, huge blocks of ice, chopped from New England ponds, were shipped South. As the blocks were sawed into cubes, they created tiny, leftover chips. Kirk Estopinal, one of the owners of Bellocq, believes the cobbler was invented to use these remaining shards.
Adding inexpensive fortified sherry kept the drink affordable. “And then,” says Estopinal, “the cobbler took off.”
Soon, bartenders weren’t using leftover ice but instead piling mounds of pristine crystals into glasses, topping the domes with a bounty of fruit and piercing the mound with the new-fangled straw.
By the mid-19th century, cobblers were all the rage. Folks in the mid-1800s used to say, “Last night we drank cobblers,” as today some might brag about Champagne or cocktails.
And packed as they were with costly ice, cobblers became popular among the wealthy. Like the long train on a Victorian dress, Estopinal said, “You have it because you can, not because you need it.”
Estiponal enjoys helping folks sample this beautiful drink from the past. If it’s your first time to Bellocq, he encourages you to sit at the bar, where a bartender will guide you through the saloon’s carefully curated list of sherries, ports and Madeiras to find the cobbler that best suits your palate.
The setting of Bellocq encourages this kind of unhurried exploration. Sofas and chairs are arranged in casual groupings to facilitate visiting in the muted lighting. Those desiring privacy can nestle into one of the intimate alcoves framed by beaded curtains.
The oriental rugs and tufted furniture are balanced by modern elements, including a whimsical disco ball. The decor, which a friend described as “bordello chic,” evokes the bar’s namesake, E.J. Bellocq, whose photos captured life in Storyville.
Bellocq also offers a happy hour (from opening to 7 p.m. daily) as well as a tasty bar menu (the Crispy Lamb Dirt Rice is especially yummy).
For those who prefer more traditional cocktails, Bellocq’s fall menu features my new favorite, the Monticello Rose: a twist on the Jack Rose cocktail made with apple brandy but with the addition of Madeira, a fortified Portuguese wine favored by Thomas Jefferson.
But be sure to try the signature Sherry Cobbler.
“The world stopped drinking sherry at some point,” says Estopinal, “and it got relegated to people’s cabinets. That’s a shame, because it’s really good stuff.”