Last Word

a green drink in a cocktail glass

One of the most popular drinks of the craft cocktail revival, the Last Word was an obscure, forgotten drink until being rediscovered and popularized by Murray Stenson in the early 2000s.

When Is a Classic, Not a Classic?

One of the most popular drinks of the craft cocktail revival, the Last Word was an obscure, forgotten drink until being rediscovered and popularized by Murray Stenson in the early 2000s.

The Spec

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. No garnish.

The Last Word Finds an Advocate

Despite its current popularity and a lineage dating to before Prohibition, the Last Word was an unknown cocktail just twenty years ago.

a bottle of green Chartreuse

Murray Stenson, working at the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle (and annoyed by having their entire drink menu copied by a neighboring bar) was looking for additions to their menu when he discovered the Last Word in a copy of Ted Saucier’s 1951 cocktail book Bottoms Up.

Because the Zig Zag Cafe was one of the few bars in the country stocking obscure bottles like Chartreuse and Maraschino liqueur, the Last Word had the added advantage of being difficult for other bars to duplicate. Zig Zag’s exclusive hold on the Last Word would not last long. Like trucker hats, cold brew coffee, and Modest Mouse, the Last Word left behind the obscurity of the Pacific Northwest and gained mainstream popularity. Within a decade, Chartreuse and Maraschino liqueur could be found on the top shelf of nearly every craft cocktail bar in the country, and the Last Word was one of the best-known drinks of the second golden age of cocktails.

But the Last Word predates Saucier’s book by at least 30 years. According to Saucier’s unnamed source at the Detroit Athletic Club, “This cocktail was introduced around here about thirty years ago by Frank Fogarty, who was very well known in vaudeville. He was called the ‘Dublin Minstrel’ and was a very fine monologue artist.”

The origin stories of cocktails tend to be apocryphal and romanticized, but there may be at least some truth to this one. A 1916 menu from a party at the Detroit Athletic Club listed the Last Word with a price tag of 35 cents, and a 1917 members-only magazine advertised an upcoming visit by Frank Fogarty.

Bottoms Up!

Google “Bottoms Up” and you will find songs by Nickelback and Trey Songz (featuring Nicki Minaj), a terrible straight-to-video movie starring Paris Hilton, and a few results that you shouldn’t have on your work computer. But it’s also the title of a 1951 book by Ted Saucier which is equal parts cocktail recipes and illustrated pin-up girls (the double entendre was intentional).

Saucier was the longtime publicist for the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. It was in that role that he served as a technical advisor on the 1945 film Week-End at the Waldorf starring Ginger Rogers and Lana Turner. One of the highest-grossing films of 1945, it was essentially a vehicle to promote the glitz and glamor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Bottoms Up served the same purpose.

A collection of cocktail recipes from the Waldorf, celebrities of the time, and other popular bars and hotels, Bottoms Up is perhaps best known for its illustrations: twelve full-color prints of pin-up girls drawn by some of the most famous artists of the day. Albert Dorne, who founded the Famous Artists School correspondence course with Norman Rockwell, and James Montgomery Flagg, who illustrated the original “I Want You” recruiting poster for the U.S. Army, were both featured in the book.

Bottoms Up is also a surprisingly well-curated collection of cocktail recipes from the middle of the twentieth century. Along with the Last Word, it contains one of the first references to a vodka martini (the Vodkatini) and the first known description of the dry shake (the technique of shaking first without ice to make frothier drinks which is ubiquitous among mixologists today).

Word Play

Because of its popularity and simple four equal-parts recipe, the Last Word has spawned countless variations in the two decades since its revival. Among the most well-known are Phil Ward’s Final Ward (substitute rye whiskey for the gin), Pete’s Word (substitute a peaty scotch for the gin), and La Ultima Palabra (substitute mezcal for the gin). For us monolingual Americans, “la última palabra” is Spanish for “the last word.” 

But the original recipe, which hasn’t changed in 100 years, is still the icon. As Murray Stenson said, “The Last Word is, well, the last word.”