Once upon a time when I served in a downtown Chicago hotel bar and historical landmark, I had zero idea what the build for a Last Word cocktail was. What I did eventually discover was whenever someone ordered one the next words out of my mouth were, “Oh, where do you work?” It’s like that, a kind of tell-tale that the person ordering it when it isn’t on the menu is more likely than not someone that works in the industry. Last Words, Campari and soda, boilermakers, and shots of Fernet were generally signs that you were serving someone that also served others.
Much to my delight after straw-testing the misty green concoctions, I learned that The Last Word originated in the city I often missed and where four generations of my family lived and died: Detroit.
I worked at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel in their game room, and the cocktail originated in the Detroit Athletic Club. It made me my love of the drink feel connected and vaguely whimsical. What I didn’t know then, is that its most recent rise to popularity in 2004 came about across the country at Zig Zag Café and because of a bartender named Murray Stenson. The herbaceous and refreshing cocktail is equal parts gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and lime juice. It is shaken, strained, and served up.
Green Chartreuse is a French liqueur that is the epitome of if-you-know-you-know in my eyes. Nothing tastes quite like it since it is steeped with a secret blend of 130 herbs by Carthusian monks and has been for hundreds of years.
A Prohibition-era drink that in its peak sold for 35 cents in 1916, which made it the most expensive cocktail on their menu at the time. The drink gained popularity partly because a vaudeville performer named Frank Fogarty also known as The Dublin Minstrel. Today, it would sell for roughly around $8.22 in comparison, though dependent on where you are I would place it at $12-15. Potentially more dependent upon the gin (no longer bathtub gin anymore) and the possibility for one that is locally and lovingly made.
I adore the Last Word because it is from Detroit and because it quite literally embodies it. It was a popular and sought after drink and then the years went by and it was forgotten. Then possibly after years of writing it off, the appeal, uniqueness, and worth is rediscovered. Though I have left my home state, it has brought me nothing but joy for the last ten years to witness a city so dear to me prove the naysayers wrong and honor its unique history through an inspiring and stunning resurgence.
There is nothing better to me than when the uncool becomes cool again. TikTok this year has swarmed with cringeworthy fights over where women part their hair or what cut of jeans they wear. There are trends and then there are classic combinations that are worthwhile and good forever. The Last Word is just one example of the latter and lucky for us it seemingly isn’t going anywhere.