A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 29, 2009
Rickey (Gin Rickey; Lime Rickey)

The “rickey” drink is named after Colonel Joe Rickey of Missouri (who died in New York City in 1903). The drink was first mixed by George Williamson at Shoomaker’s in Washington, D.C.; some give the date as 1883, but recorded citations begin from July 1890.

According to Joe Rickey’s account (see the July 7, 1900 citation below), Rickey mixed bourbon with carbonated water and lemon juice. Someone else at Shoomaker’s replaced lemon juice with lime juice and created the “lime rickey.” Rickey would have nothing to do with the “gin rickey,” which he claimed had been popular in New York City and is cited in print by 1895.


Wikipedia: Lime Rickey
Lime Rickey is any of several mixed drinks — some alcoholic cocktails and some not — each featuring lime juice as a key ingredient. Other components may include gin, rum, vodka, bitters, and carbonated water. Sweetening from simple syrup or other flavorings is common in several varieties. The drink is rumored to be named for a Colonel Rickey, an English officer once based in Washington, D.C.. More popularly, the seaside resort community of Wildwood, New Jersey is cited as its origin.

Rickeys made with gin (typically referred to simply as gin rickeys) are among the most favored of the varieties of the drink with alcohol included. The mojito, which originated in Cuba, is a popular relative of the rickey, made with key lime juice, rum, simple syrup, soda water, muddled mint leaves and angostura bitters.

Soda-fountain versions, which exclude alcohol, may include grape, cherry or raspberry syrup. The limeades offered at Oklahoma-based Sonic Drive-In restaurants follow this style, incorporating lemon-lime soda and fresh limes. Many Utah-based restaurants, including Arctic Circle Restaurants among others, offer a Lime Ricky, made with fresh squeezed limes and lemon-lime soda (referred to locally as a “Fresh Lime") topped off with grape flavored syrup. Raspberry lime rickey is a traditional New England version that is made with raspberry juice or syrup, lemon-lime soda or soda water flavored with fresh limes. It is often served by Northeastern based chains such as Friendly’s and Brigham’s.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Main Entry: rick·ey
Pronunciation: \ˈri-kē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural rickeys
Etymology: probably from the name Rickey
Date: 1895
: a drink containing liquor, lime juice, sugar, and soda water ; also : a similar drink without liquor

(Oxford English Dictionary)
rickey
orig. U.S.
[prob. f. the surname Rickey.]
An iced drink consisting of gin, whiskey, or the like, mixed with lime or lemon juice and carbonated water. Freq. with defining word prefixed, esp. gin rickey.
1895 G. J. KAPPELER Mod. Amer. Drinks 97 Brandy rickey. In a thin medium-sized glass put one lump of ice, the juice of half a lime, one jigger brandy, fill the glass with siphon carbonic water; drink while effervescent. Ibid., Canadian rickey. Ibid., Gin rickey.
1906 Mrs. Beeton’s Bk. Househ. Managem. xlix. 1511 Gin rickey. Ingredients.—1 wineglassful of gin, 1 dessertspoonful of lemon or lime-juice, seltzer water, ice… Note.—Any other spirit may be used..and would..give its name to the compound.
1908 ‘O. HENRY’ Gentle Grafter i. 13 Why, in Bryan’s second campaign,..they used to give me three gin rickeys and I’d speak two hours longer than Billy himself could on the silver question.
1925 F. SCOTT FITZGERALD Great Gatsby vii. 140 Tom came back, preceding four gin rickeys. 1928 [see GIMLET n.1 1c].
1930 G. R. BROWN Washington xi. 369 In course of time, the ‘rickey’ came to be referred to as the ‘gin rickey’, whereas it had always been a ‘whiskey rickey’.
1945 P. CHEYNEY I’ll say she Does! iii. 72 The lyin’ woman is like a gin ricky without any gin.
1975 M. AMIS Dead Babies xiii. 67 By 12.30, Giles had consumed five gin-rickies, four gin-and-tonics, three gin-and-its, two gin-and-bitters, and one gin.
1975 Washington Post 27 Jan. A 19/1 A certain Col. Joseph Rickey used to frequent a drinking place in E Street known as Shoomaker’s… The original Rickey, a la Shoo’s, consisted of Bourbon, soda and lime juice. In time gin was substituted for the Bourbon and..[the Colonel’s] name was forever attached.

27 June 1884, Cincinnati (OH) Commercial Tribune, pg. 1:
Joe Rickey, of St. Louis, the well known whisky man, who bets on every national nomination, was the center of a group who heard him tell how he won $5,000 on Carlislle’s election to the Speakership, $5,000 on Arthur’s defeat at Chicago, and how he was now willing to bet that the Democrats would nominate either Cleveland and Carlisle or Cleveland and Morrison.

13 July 1890, Washington (DC) Post, pg. 9:
MID-SUMMER DRINKS.
Seasonable Concoctions That Have Their Merits and Demerits.
The weather foundry, which General Greely edits, predicts some more Chicago weather this week, so prepare to perspire. In order to alleviate the distress of his fellow-sufferers the writer has been looking into the merits of several new combinations of liquids with a view to recommending something mildly exhilarating, something cooling but not too stimulating.

One of the latest combinations is a whisky fizz, which seems to be about like all fizzes, save that bourbon is substituted for the usual article in alcohol.  It is not to be recommended, however. It spoils good seltzer, and doesn’t improve the whisky.  The Joe Rickey comes next.  There is in the minds of the rising generation considerable doubt as to whether the drink was named after Joe Rickey, or the Missouri statesman was christened after the drink.  It is very simple, and tastes like a sour lemonade on a big booze. The waiter brings you a goblet of cracked ice in which is a squeezed half lime. You pour in your drink of whisky, and the darkey siphons in enough seltzer to fill the glass. Then you drink it. It is right pleasant and has the peculiar advantage inherited in and hither to monopolized by champagne and milk punches. You don’t know that you have been drinking anything until you are so drunk that you don’t know you have had anything to drink.

8 August 1890, Frederick (MD) Daily News, pg. 2, col. 2:
THE REVISED “JOE RICKEY.”
From the Kansas City Star.
The “Joe Rickey” is the name of a new summer beverage which has become fashionable and popular at Washington. It is worthy of the illustrious Missouri statesman whose title it bears. It is made by squeezing half a lime into a large tumbler half filled with crushed ice. A reasonable measure of whiskey is added to this and the glass is then filled with soda from a siphon. When a Kansas man orders a “Joe Rickey” he instructs the barkeeper to leave out the ice, the lime juice, and the soda.

23 October 1890, Olean (NY) Weekly Democrat, pg. 13, col. 5:
There is very little drunkenness in this place considering the large number of customers it has. Of course Shoemaker’s is a gold mine. It is owned by a stock company, one of its shareholders being Joe Rickey, the well known St. Louis politician. A popular summer drink, a mixture of whisky, apollinaris and lime juice, was named the “Joe Rickey,” and had a great run, not only in this house, but in others here. The profits of this famous saloon are not less than $50,000 a year.

8 December 1893, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 3:
WHAT WILL IT BE?
The Very Newest Things in the Line
of Cocktails and Fancy Mixtures.

(...)
The Riccis is having a great run just now. Some people spell the word with a k and two e’s, and say that the drink came from India. The generally accepted story of the origin of the Ricci, however, ascribes its discovery to one Joe Ricci, a famous mixer of drinks in New Orleans 50 years ago. It belongs to that class of drinks known as “bracers,” and is said to be particularly acceptable to the palate, stomach and head after a too liberal indulgence in straight whisky. The Ricci is served in a long glass, and is made of lime juice, whisky and seltzer. It is cooled by cracked ice, and tastes something like a whisky sour. There is also another Ricci, in which gin takes the place of whiskey.

Google Books
Modern American Drinks
By George J. Kappeler
Akron, OH: Saalfield
1895
Pg. 97:
Brandy Rickey.
In a thin medium-sized glass put one lump of ice, the juice of half a lime, one jigger brandy, fill the glass with siphon carbonic water; drink while effervescent.
Canadian Rickey.
Is prepared in the same manner as Brandy Rickey, substituting Canadian Club whiskey for brandy.
Gin Rickey.
Prepare same as Brandy Rickey, substituting gin for brandy.

Chronicling America
13 September 1895, New York (NY) Sun, pg. 7, col. 3:
“What, a gin rickey at this time of the year?” said a bartender in an up-town cafe when called upon for one. “Certainly not. Limes are necessary for gin rickeys, and they are now out of season. You couldn’t get a good lime now,” and then he offered to mix a rickey with a lemon instead of a lime. That combination is neither a gin fizz nor a gin rickey, and is not likely to become popular.

7 July 1900, Mansfield (OH) News, pg. 9, col. 6:
POPULAR DRINK.
“Rickey" Creation Disclaimed by the
Man Whose Name it Bears.

Colonel Joe Rickey, the man who is credited with inventing the drink that bears his name, sat in the cafe of the Waldorf-Astoria talking politics with Senator Squire, Col,onel Thomas F. Ochiltree, and several others last night., when the subject of “rickeys” came up for discussion.

As might be expected, Colonel Joe had much information to impart.

“There is a mistaken impression that I created the drink now known all over the world as a ‘rickey,’” he said, “but, as a matter of fact, I don’t think I ever drank a ‘rickey’ in my life.

“The ‘rickey’ originated in Washington, and I was in a sense responsible for it. You see, it was like this: I never drank whisky neat—it’s a mighty injurious system—but whisky diluted with a little water won’t hurt anybody. Of course, a carbonated water makes it brighter and more palatable, and for that reason I always took a long drink, usually whisky and water with a lump of ice.

“This is the highball of common commerce, and has been known to thirsty humanity for many generations. To this, however, I added the juice of a lemon in my desire to get a healthful drink, for the lemon acid is highly beneficial and tones up the stomach wonderfully.

“This combination became very popular at Shoomaker’s in Washington, which I did most of my drinking, and gradually the folks began asking forthose drinks that Rickey drinks. About this time the use of limes became fairly common, and one afternoon an experimenter tried the effect of lime juice instead of lemon juice in the drink, and from that time on all ‘rickey’ were made from limes.

“I never drink the lime juice combination myself, because I think the lemon acid is mellower and more beneficial.

“The drink named after me was always made by experts in Shoomaker’s from limes thereafter, and soon became popular. Washington during a session of congress, is filled with people from all parts of the country, and soon the fame of the newdrink spread north and south, east and west, until it could be found all the way from the granite cliffs of Maine to the Golden Gate of California, and from the gloomy forests of the northwest to the sandy wastes of Key West.

“Only here in New York was it perverted and made a thing of shame. Here they make it with gin, which is a liquor no gentleman could ever bring himself to drink. In fact, the gin rickey is about the only kind known in this city and the average barkeeper looks surprised if you ask him for one made with rye whisky.”—New York Telegraph.

24 April 1903, New York (NY) Herald, pg. 5, col. 2:
COLONEL RICKEY
TAKES HIS LIFE
Poison Kills the Man Who First
Compounded Drink Ap-
proved by Statesmen.

Colonel Joseph Kyle Rickey, for twenty-five years well known among politicans the country over as “Joe” Rickey and the originator of the “gin rickey,” committed suicide by swallowing a solution of carbolic acid a few minutes before eleven o’clock yesterday morning.
(...)
During the early seventies he became active in democratic politics in Missouri and went to Washington, where for twenty years he was conspicuous. For many years he was the proprietor of a cafe on Pennsylvania avenue near Thirteenth street, and it was there the “gin rickey” came into existence.

Colonel Rickey always said that one of his barkeepers was the real originator of the “rickey.”

“Bill and I knew about the gin and lime juice,” he would say to his friends, “for a long time, but the thing never became famous until one day Henry Watterson came in for a drink in a great hurry, and in trying to make a new bartender understand what he wanted shouted, ‘Oh, confound it, make me one of those—you know—one of those Joe Rickeys.’ After that the ‘rickey’ became one of the institutions of the country.”

24 April 1903, Washington (DC) Post, pg. 1, col. 7:
COL. RICKEY A SUICIDE
Draught of Poison Closes Noted
Character’s career.

POPULAR DRINK GIVEN NAME
New York, April 23.--Col. Joseph Kyle Rickey, said to be the originator of the famous drink known as the “gin rickey,” died to-day in his home at 24 West Twenty-fifth street.
(...)
Col. Rickey’s death will be mourned in Washington, where he lived and was a famous character about town. To this day, in Shoomaker’s place, noted on Newspaper Row, the sign appears that in this place the rickey was discovered.

Col. Joseph Kyle Rickey was born in St. Joe, Mo., sixty-one years ago. He came to Washington as a lobbyist in 1883. While here, Mr. Herzog, of Shoomaker & Herzog, on E street, died and the place was offered for sale. Mr. August W. Noack, a member of the firm, urged Col. Rickey to purchase the business, which he did.
(...)
Origin of the Rickey.
Col. Rickey, before he became the owner of the resort on E street, would go into Shoomaker’s and ask George Williamson, who is still there, for a drink composed of “Belle of Nelson whisky,” a piece of ice, and a siphon of seltzer. Fred Mussey, now gone, watched Col. Rickey indulge in these beverages. He finally took the recipe to New York, and there called for a “Rickey drink,” which he explained and got, and thus spread its fame. One day Representative Hatch, of Missouri, went into Shoomaker’s and asked for “one of those Rickey drinks, with a half of a lime in it.” This was given Mr. Hatch and the rickey was complete.

i24 April 1903, New York (NY) World, pg. 3, col. 4:
The drink known as the “rickey” was named for Joe Rickey, but not by him. Rickey had a habit of drinking in the morning a small “hooker” of Bourbon whiskey into which he had squeezed half a lime and poured a tumbler of water. One morning Fred Mussey walked into the place where Rickey did his drinking and said to the bartender: “Give me a Rickey!”

“A which?” asked the bartender.

“One of those things Rickey drinks.”

The drink was made in a long glass, with Bourbon whiskey, half a lime, a piece of ice and carbonic water. Rickey always contended that the use of rye whiskey or gin in a Rickey made it unfit for a gentleman to drink.

24 April 1903, New York (NY) Tribune, pg. 9, col. 4:
He exploited and popularized the gin rickey, though it is asserted Colonel Watterson christened the drink.

It was at the St. Louis convention that nominated Tilden (1884—ed.), so the story goes, that Colonel Watterson, after being locked in a room for eighteen hours, where he, as a member of the committee on resolutions had been trying to build a party platform, emerged, hot, tired and thirsty. Seeing Rickey, he called to him to join him in a cooling tipple. When asked by the bartender what he would have, Colonel Watterson, who had partaken of the beverage with Colonel Rickey before, said, “Oh, give me one of those—of those, ah—rickeys.” And the rickey was launched.

June 1907, Bar & Buffet, pg. 5, col. 2:
THE FIRST RICKEY.
An American drink of world-wide reputation is the Rickey. The first Rickey was made in 1891 by George Williamson, who is still quenching assorted thirsts at Shoomaker’s, Washington barroom, Toledo, O., which has been famous since 1858. Colonel Jos. R. Rickey, of Fulton, Missouri, was a celebrated character about the National Capital in those days. He drifted into Shoomaker’s one hot day and asked for a cooling drink. Mr. Williamson put a piece of ice in a long glass, poured some whiskey over it and added mineral water.  The crowd had several “rounds” of them. Then the suggestion was made that a drop of lime juice would be an improvement.  Mr. Williamson supplied the limes.  The new drink was called “Colonel Rickey’s brand.” A few weeks later a Washingtonian dropped into the Hoffman House bar in New York and asked for a “Colonel Rickey.” The barkeeper confessed ignorance and was enlightened.  From that time the Rickey began to grow in favor, and it has endured to this day.

9 August 1915, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 4, col. 6:
George Williamson died suddenly in Washington, D.C., just before noon yesterday. Williamson mixed the first “gin rickey” ever served over a bar in the United States, according to his friends. The “rickey” was named after the man who directed Williamson to mix it, and it was served to Colonel “Joe” Rickey of Missouri, a well-known politician and bon vivant of Washington a quarter of a century ago.

Imbibe Magazine (May/June 2007)
Rediscovering Vintage Cocktails:
The Man Behind the Drink
Story by Ted Haigh, aka Dr. Cocktail

(...)
He was a regular at a marble palace frequented by political operatives that habitués called Shoo’s, one building up from the National Theatre in Washington. Shoomaker’s was the enterprise of William Shoomaker, who had begun his professional life as a Civil War sutler. The saloon had been thriving there since before the Mexican-American War. All evidence suggests that Rickey himself first conceived his signature drink in the typically hot 1883 summer campaign season. The bartender, George Williamson, prepared it to the colonel’s instructions, and the first one was actually a rye Rickey made with Shoomaker’s own house-label whiskey. Though Colonel Joe remained faithful to his original concoction, in short order gin would eclipse the rye (and inspire a whole family of drinks called Rickeys).
(...)
Shoomaker’s, which Joe Rickey bought in the 1890s, served its last Rickey in 1916, when it was razed and replaced by the Munsey office building and quickly occupied by the National Research Council and the Finnish Embassy, among others. Colonel Joe died by suicide in 1903 at 61. He drank a solution of carbolic acid.

Quondam Washington D.C.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Col. Joseph Rickey--Did he or Didn’t He?
(...)
However, the truth may Rickey didn’t invent the drink at all. According to George Rothwell Brown (Washington: A Not Too Serious History, Baltimore: Norman Publishing, 1930), it was a visiting stranger from the Indies.

Here is Brown’s account:

By August of 1883, both Hertzog and his partner Shoomaker were dead, and the bar was slated to close. Col. Rickey was so devastated that he purchased the place himself, installing George Williamson and Gus Noack as managers.

One summer afternoon, an unknown stranger visiting from the Caribbean walked into Shoomaker’s and asked Williamson for a rye whiskey. He pulled a lime from several he was carrying in his pocket, proceeding to squeeze it into his drink, in a manner he said was popular in the islands. On departing, says Brown, he left several limes on the bar.

When Rickey arrived the next morning for his “eye-opener,” Williamson suggested to him that he try a little lime juice to his regular bourbon. Rickey was delighted with the taste and later invited his friends, Cincinnati Gazette correspondent Frederick Mussey and and Charles Towle of the Boston Traveller, to sample the concoction. It was agreed all around that the lime juice was a “happy thought,” and the drink was officially born.

The following day, Mussey returned to Shoomakers and ordered one of those “Joe Rickey” drinks, and in no time at all, “Rickeys” were being concocted all over Washington D.C. and beyond, with much experimentation and modifications. When Rickey eventually moved to New York, he took the recipe with him.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Wednesday, July 29, 2009 • Permalink