We are pleased to introduce you to Virginia Author, John Flood. John’s book Buffalo Bill in the Limelight Across Virginia will be released in Spring 2020. He let us know that Buffalo Bill often enjoyed a Whiskey Old Fashioned while visiting the Commonwealth. DW&S readers love Virginia history; so, of course, we had to include this fun story in this edition. While writing the story, John traced the steps of Buffalo Bill and enjoyed a few Old Fashioneds himself. You can follow the book release at www.Big-Legends.com or on FB @Big Legends.
Buffalo Bill Cody…
A name recognized around the world for over a century and one that brings to mind images of colossal Wild West shows featuring cowboys and Indians, trick riders on horseback, herds of charging buffalo, and stagecoaches racing around the arena at breakneck speed. After growing up on the frontier, serving a stint for the Pony Express while still a boy, and years of scouting for the U.S. Army across the American West, William F. Cody launched his legendary entertainment exhibition in 1883. Going by a variety of names over the years, the show became simply referred to as Wild West. The name stands today. Cody toured with this enterprise in the U.S., building such great success that the show was even carried to England in 1887. Command performances were given before the Queen of England, the Prince of Wales, and a host of royalty and aristocracy across Europe. In the spring of 1888, the Wild West returned to America, hitting eastern cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. This two continent marathon tour wrapped up with a stop in Richmond, Va. in October of that year.
Including this 1888 visit, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West put Virginia on its schedule a total of 10 times across a span of the next 28 years. In each town that was visited, the three trains needed to carry all the equipment, livestock, and crew would arrive in the early morning hours and quickly be unloaded. Everything would be carried to the showgrounds, and the open-air arena, with a canvas covering for the spectators, would be erected. While the setup was going on, as well as in between the two daily performances, it was usual practice for Buffalo Bill to host visitors at his tent. Cody loved to talk to the children and the average Joes, but frequently entertained dignitaries as well.
One such occasion was the 1895 stop in Richmond. Fitzhugh Lee, former governor of Virginia and future U.S. Army General in the Spanish-American War, was on hand for a visit. The scene was captured by Dexter Fellows. Fellows was an associate who traveled with Cody for a number of years. On this day, he was escorting Lee.
“Because of the need to entertain, Cody kept a stock of liquor in his private (train) car, but I never saw any in his tent on the show grounds. In fact, when General Fitzhugh Lee visited him in Richmond, Cody had to send a messenger to the car to provide the nephew of General Robert E. Lee with the drink of his choice.”
In this instance, before reaching Cody’s tent, Fellows and Lee walked through the arena. From the crowd already assembled, loud cheers were directed toward Lee, who, somewhat surprised, lifted his hat and waved kindly to the fans. Fellows then continued his account as they arrived at Buffalo Bill’s tent.
“The General greeted Cody warmly.
“Colonel,” he said, “Charles Manderson (Congressman Manderson of Nebraska) tells me you make the best old-fashioned cocktail ever put together.”
“Would you like to have one, General?” asked Cody.
“Delighted,” replied Lee.
When the messenger brought back the makings, Cody mixed the drink, pouring only a small one for himself.”
This account from long ago struck me as colorful and intriguing at the same time. How neat, that this larger-than-life scout and showman mixed this drink right here in the Old Dominion all those decades ago. It all prompted me to set out on several adventures across the state to find out just what is happening with the Old Fashioned right now in modern-day Virginia.
Winchester ~ The Half Note
My first grand journey was truthfully a short one. With the thought of “there’s no place like home,” I visited the lively Half-Note lounge right in my own backyard in Winchester. This warm and welcoming, upscale bar is housed in the historic Prohibition-era George Washington Hotel, a stone’s throw from the B&O train station that Cody and his troupe unloaded on October 4, 1916, when the big show came to town. Entering the Half Note is like stepping into another world. The bar itself, situated right in the center of a grand space adjacent to the hotel’s lobby, has a semi-circle shaped design with dark wood trim and tall columns. The lowly lit room boasts a soaring ceiling, large-scale jazz-themed artwork, and 1920’s era photos. It was the perfect setting to enjoy this time-honored cocktail.
Though the Old Fashioned certainly evolved through the mid to late 1800s and creative variations are commonplace today, on this occasion, the bartender mixed what is now regarded by some to be a traditional recipe. A thin slice of orange and a cherry were tossed into a tumbler along with a couple of sugar cubes. Two dashes of bitters were added, and all of these ingredients were then muddled. The glass was filled with ice cubes and topped off with Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky. Another angle used by some, considered even more traditional, is to leave the orange and cherry as a garnish while including a dash or two of water in the mixture. In this case, the slow melt from the ice would provide that ingredient, and all the flavors permeated the drink. The result was a decidedly pleasant Old Fashioned, which was unmistakably anchored by the bourbon while at the same time melded with the citrus, sugar, and bitters.
Fredericksburg ~ Park Lane Tavern
Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West rolled into Fredericksburg in May of 1913. It would be the one and only time this colonial-era town tucked up close the Rappahannock River would ever see this Western legend. And if Cody could have sauntered up to the bar at the present-day, nearby Park Lane Tavern, he would have had a great chance to experience a creative modern twist on the famed Old Fashioned. It is likely he would have been sold on one particular drink by the title alone – The Park Lane has dubbed this offering the Smoky Campfire – but the name is merely a tantalizing lead-in to a memorably unique concoction.
However, since Cody could not be present on this occasion, I was more than happy to pinch-hit. The bartender had gone over my Old Fashioned options, and, hearing the descriptions, I immediately latched onto the Smoky Campfire. She went right to work combining 2 ounces of Tarnished Truth High Rye Straight Bourbon Whiskey, ¼ once maple syrup and 3 dashes of chocolate bitters in an Old Fashioned glass with an ice ball rather than ice cubes. Many traditional-leaning recipes, as mentioned, call for the orange wedge on the edge of the glass. In this case, the bartender caramelized the edges of an orange peel with an open flame and incorporated it directly into the mixture. I was already thinking to myself, “I can’t wait to try this,” but then came the power ball, the moonshot, the grand-slam. The whole unique invention was placed into a glass-encased chamber and completely shrouded in wood-fired smoke for roughly half a minute. It was brought to my perch at the bar with dancing trails of smoke still wafting from the top of the liquid.
Though visibly the smoke had cleared within a few moments, the aroma and taste remained throughout the entire imbibing experience. Subjecting the orange peel to the flame had opened up its oils, providing that essence in the background while the maple syrup smoothed and sweetened the edges of this Old Fashioned. Buffalo Bill would undoubtedly have smiled and heartily approved as he enjoyed one of these delights. Though he never shied from the spotlight and was many times thrust into a cosmopolitan setting, William F. Cody’s favorite place to be was around the campfire. He preferred to sit in the wilds of the American West with good friends such as Iron Tail, the Sioux (Oglala Lakota) Chief who toured with Cody for years. On this present-day occasion, the Smoky Campfire harkened back to scenes like those that Buffalo Bill and other frontiersmen had experienced. The Park Lane, with their talented Mixologists, knocked it out of the park with this creation, a fabulous 21st Century take on a 19th Century favorite.
Lynchburg ~ Bootleggers
Sitting high above the James River and the adjacent railroad tracks below, Bootleggers is a modern speakeasy and gathering spot clothed in legend, lore, and visuals paying tribute to the region’s infamous notoriety for being the center of the outlaw moonshine universe. On either side of this hip establishment, the steep city hillside is blanketed with former tobacco and other industrial buildings, many of them brick, which is being brought back to life as loft apartments, hotels, and unique eateries. The setting is decidedly cutting-edge while at the same time fabulously historic.
From my seat at the bar looking through the expansive windows at Bootleggers as well as from the outdoor patio, it was not hard to imagine Buffalo Bill’s five visits to Lynchburg between 1897 and 1913. It is likely that Cody’s trains, typically carrying upwards of 700 performers and crew, came into town on the very tracks I could see from this lofty location.
Once I quit daydreaming, the bartender came over, and we got down to a spirited discussion of the Old Fashioned. We talked about a few options, and I settled in once again on a more or less traditional type offering. Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky was the selected spirit in this case. My well-versed bartender detailed the evolution of the storied cocktail across the years. They mentioned the introduction of ice to the mixture, the problems that often caused because of the sugar not dissolving, and the switch by many to simple syrup to cure that problem. For the drink, I was about to enjoy, the simple syrup was indeed used, plus a slice of orange with the peel flame-kissed was included with this somewhat smoother, sweeter bourbon.
With the blessing of perfect timing, I enjoyed my delightful Old Fashioned all by itself for a while before my other request arrived. Having noticed a special separate menu titled Bootleggers Hunting Season, I had ordered what turned out to be a to-die-for Elk burger with chipotle mayo, baby spinach, cheddar cheese, whisky vegetables, and BBQ sauce. Buffalo Bill Cody, renowned mixer of an Old Fashioned, found no greater enjoyment than hunting Western big game, particularly elk. I can only imagine, of course, but if Cody had joined me at the bar on this occasion, I think he would have pulled the bartender over, pointed at me, and said, “I’ll have what he’s having!”
If you are interested in more Virginia Distilleries, you can take a few days and travel The Virginia Spirits Trail.