The 404 is a fairly modern cocktail without a story. It just simply is. There are, however, several variants, one with vodka, and one with gin, because, options; those ever present characteristics of modern consumerism and informed choice. It’s a cocktail that could only come from a post-postmodernist world, the so called metamodernist, where 1337 is spoken in emojis and the only hypertext transfer protocol, HTTP, response code known outside the circle of those who create the abstraction is “not found.”
Search for this cocktail. The results suit the name. There’s not much written about it, except that it comes from the venerable Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide, a suitable, if somewhat ironic place for a drink called 404. The Mr. Boston book, originally titled Old Mr. Boston Deluxe Official Bartender’s Guide, has been in continuous publication, regularly updated and revised, since 1935. The craft cocktail community’s love affair with old books is well documented, and titles such as The Savoy Cocktail book and names like Harry MacElhone carry a certain reverence as the out of print or long passed often do. The Mr. Boston book isn’t like that. You can buy a new one at Powell’s.
Therein lies the rub. When nothing is done without a proper return on investment and nothing is as it seems, when 404 carries a weight of meaning beyond its intent, a book can’t be just a collection of recipes. The real return on the investment is the cachet of publishing, and the celebrity, or bar, or restaurant, or venture capitalist behind it. Who owns the rights? Will it improve shareholder value, and can it be sold in the lobby? What, then, is the bottom line when everything is collateral, and marketing is left to the masses who co-opted the means of social liberation from the grips of its creators and placed it firmly in the hands of the gatekeepers? Make no mistake, Facebook, Google, Twitter, et.al., all of the digital giants, are advertising companies, and their commodity is attention, given freely by anyone who grew up knowing they are the product, and who now also know what those naive early believers in a digital world as a democratized world didn’t. Everything is marketing. Want friends? Market yourself, be the product, sell your attention at a premium, and trade in likes. Then, when it goes dark, and your profile is 404, effectively cease to exist.
It’s easy to overlook the Mr. Boston book because what does it get you besides a book of recipes? Is consuming something connected to greater consumption not better, especially when it’s something which you can own and tweet about, hoping the sponsor, the abstraction, will notice and “like,” thus verifiably increasing your currency of attention? Of course it is, and we all know it, and we all seek it, even when we also know we don’t want it. That’s why the old books and the associated names matter. It’s the picturesque past where you don’t have to be “on” all the time, where you don’t have to constantly manage your profile so others will “like” you and your stuff, and you’re not reminded by “friends” that if you want them to come to your holiday party you have to pay them. It’s a hipsterish yearning for the “simple times” of a modernist world where everyone celebrated the same holidays, went to the same schools, worked the same hours, went to the same church, ate the same food, read the same books and looked at the same art. Postmodernism asks too much, expects too much, and how do I know if anything is real or good without someone validating me? Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, if you want to know what good art is, you have to look at alot of art. That’s true of many things and it takes time we don’t have because we all have to make money. Fealty to advertising overlords, and reverence for history in a very plastic way becomes a coping mechanism, an escape hatch.
This isn’t new, and it’s not critique. Every generation decries the perceived social decay wrought by its children, but it’s never true. It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s simply different, and when it’s different enough, you wrap yourself in nostalgia and reach for the past by reading the old books, drinking the old drinks, wearing the fancy socks and parting your hair in the middle. You can even recreate the speakeasy as a real time refuge, but you can’t stop checking your phone. It’s escapist, but it’s not immersive. It’s having a Miller High Life while updating your Facebook status, a confluence, and you’re allowed to enjoy it, even if you take the jargon with you and call a cocktail a 404.
The Mr. Boston book straddles those worlds. It’s both vintage, with all the cachet of connection to the picturesque past, and modern, still in print, but lacking the commercial authority of something published by Dale DeGroff, or Death and Co. It’s a relic of the past that won’t stay there, which makes the 404, a very metamodernist cocktail, so very out of place among it’s pages. Don’t worry, though. It’s not entirely free of vintage norms. The 404 comes in 2 versions, Mrs. 404, made with gin, and Mr. 404 made with vodka. This alone makes one wonder if the name, 404, has any connection at all to the HTTP response code, or if we’re just projecting our own desire in a not very witty attempt at a technical wink and nod.
The 404 cocktail itself is no different. It, too, speaks to fantasy, to a continental worldliness through it’s ingredients. Exotic amaro from Italy, and old liqueur, once long out of production but resurrected by a visionary entrepreneur determined to adorn the nostalgic speakeasy with proper bottles. Also, lemon and gin, or vodka for those who want the nostalgia, but only to a point. You know what, though? The 404, either version, is a remarkable drink. It’s very good, very drinkable, and very easy to have one or three too many. It should definitely be more well known than it is, but, in the speakeasy way, we’ll take it and keep it our own if we must, which makes it equally great for keeping it local. Elderflower liqueur and Aperol make this appealing, and, while we like St. Germain just fine, we do prefer Peychaud’s Aperitivo over Aperol. The Peychaud’s is as bitter as the Aperol, but in a cocktail it’s just a little sweeter, so we dial the simple syrup back a bit. As for gin or vodka, take your pick. Aria Gin is a good all around cocktail gin, and Medoyeff is everything a vodka should be in a mixed drink. What’s the difference? Gin will bring out more of the lemon flavor, and vodka seems to provoke more of the orange, but the differences are minor. Overall, however, the gin version is just a bit more complex, but do your own thing. It’s your creation, your fantasy, just remember to check your phone, update your status, and give a “like” if you love it as much as we do.
1 1/2 oz Aria Gin, or Medoyeff Vodka
3/4 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
3/4 oz Lemon juice
1/2 oz Peychaud’s Aperitivo
1/4 oz Simple syrup
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
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