As Time Goes By… The French 75
The French 75 is one of only two cocktails named in the movie Casablanca (1942) despite the movie being set in a bar. But we’ll get to that in a moment. First, we need to figure out what a French 75 is.
For the drink’s history we are circling back to the city in which this Cocktail Lounge journey began - Paris. The inventor (or more likely just the publisher) of the French 75 was Harry MacElhone, a Scottish bartender who owned Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. He is one of the most famous bartenders of the twentieth century, also having invented the Bloody Mary and the Sidecar at his Paris bar.
The drink got its name from the French 75mm light field gun used in World War I. American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once proclaimed, “If you have a French 75 you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” Some have called the drink a sniper because the gin hits much harder than one expects from a refreshing champagne cocktail.
There are variations of the recipe, including a second one from Harry MacElhone himself, but here we stick with the classic rendition recognized by the International Bartender Association.
Let's Drink! FRENCH 75
**We'd like to give one final thank you to Prost! Wine Bar & Charcuterie in Frankenmuth for mixing up our drinks during our trip to the Castle Cocktail Lounge.**
INGREDIENTS 30ml (1 oz) Gin (West Winds – Cutlass 50% ABV) 15ml (½ oz) Lemon Juice (fresh) 15ml (½ oz) Sugar Syrup (2:1 Sugar:Water) 90ml (3 oz) Champagne (Moët Brut)
METHOD – Add Gin, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and home-made sugar syrup (using 2-parts sugar to 1-part water) into a cocktail shaker with a handful of ice. Shake until cold (10-15 seconds) and strain into a chilled coupe. Top up the glass with Brut Champagne, usually between 60 and 90ml of Champagne. Option to garnish with a lemon peel spiral.
It’s been noted by bartending historians that MacElhone’s French 75 is a Tom Collins except that it subs champagne for the soda water. Also, bartenders and historians alike emphatically say this should be served in a coupe or Collins glass not a champagne flute despite the current vogue of using a flute.
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, and she walks into mine.”
Humphrey Bogart patronized Harry’s New York Bar, but more importantly, he also played Rick, the main character in Casablanca. Rick’s Cafe Americain held most of the movie’s action, and although there were quite a few named liquors, there weren’t many cocktails ordered.
We won’t recap the movie here, there are plenty of synopses available, including from the Library of Congress. We’ll focus on the drinks. The only named cocktails ordered in 1942 at Rick’s Cafe Americain, were ordered by side characters: a champagne cocktail ordered by resistance fighter Victor Laszlo, our heroine Ilsa’s husband, and a French 75 ordered by Yvonne, Rick’s ex. Somewhat ironically, she orders a drink named for a weapon that brutalized German forces in WWI while she was the girlfriend of a Nazi. Were the movie writers trying to slip in a hope for allied victory via this drink order? We can only guess.
Although Rick wanted to let cynicism rule his actions, in the end he was too concerned with people’s wellbeing. Much like our real-life bartenders of WWII (Frank and Joe), when pushed Rick worked to tip the scales toward good.
As the most specific drink in the movie, Casablanca is credited with re-popularizing the French 75 in the 1940s.
The Old Heidelberg Beer Garden: Restaurant, Night Club, Sports Complex
“Celebrate Victory at the Chanticleer – Tonite – Connie Radd and His Orchestra” -The Saginaw News, August 16, 1945
The Old Heidelberg Beer Garden opened on Saturday, July 9th – only weeks after the sale of beer was again permitted. Located in Saginaw Township on Bay Road – beyond the city limits and north of Shattuck Rd. The site was rural. A riding stable across the road advertised “nice woodland paths.” The porch that stretched across the front of the building was perfect for unairconditioned summer nights. It was more than a tavern or restaurant, it was a venue for entertainment, dancing, and a sports field. Early advertising promoted vaudeville acts.
Located behind the restaurant, the sports field hosted a variety of sporting events that included softball, football, and soccer - The Old Heidelberg sponsored its own soccer team. When lights for nighttime games were installed in 1941, the Saginaw News reported “The new lighting plant at Heidelberg Field is reputed to be the latest thing hereabouts for night softball.”
In 1939, Frank and Nanna Schubert became the proprietors. Advertised as Schubert’s Old Heidelberg Inn, the venue was known for “Chicken and Kraut dinners.” In case you need the number for reservations , it was 9154.
In 1944 the Schuberts moved to Sand Lake. The name of the venue was changed to the Chanticleer and about this time John M. [Johnnie} and Margaret Ryan moved from Detroit to operate the Chanticleer. Renamed “Johnnie Ryan’s Chanticleer,” the liquor license was transferred to the Ryans in 1951.
Jonnie Ryan’s Chanticleer was described in a 1953 Saginaw News article: “Oldest member of the Bay Road development is the Chanticleer, a nightclub which has been a fixture on the highway for several decades under various names.”
In 1969 Johnnie Ryan’s – “Chanticleer” had been dropped from the official name – restaurant was sold to Anthony Dambro. Renamed Tony Dambro’s “Country House,” it was destroyed by fire on March 8, 1970. The following year, Dambro opened a restaurant named the Windjammer Inn in a new building on the site. Eventually, the Windjammer closed.
Although we have not been able to pinpoint exactly when the Old Heidelberg acquired a license that would have permitted mixed drinks to be served, we do know that memories were made on the dance floor, in the restaurant and on the sports field.
Although the Castle Cocktail Lounge will be closing, we have numerous other 1930s and 40s Saginaw nightclubs to explore in the future: The Cotton Club, Ravenna Gardens, The Old Depot Garden Cabaret …
Thanks for joining us this July in the Castle Cocktail Lounge. Let’s all raise our glasses high and toast the 1940s. Mix a French 75 and curl up to watch Casablanca. Or perhaps you are ready to head out and hit up a Saginaw nightspot. Whatever you choose, please drink responsibly.
Cocktail Lounge Menu:
Sources & Notes:
(We wish to express our thanks to Roberta Morey for locating the photograph of the Old Heidelberg Beer Garden.)
“029 - French 75,” https://lock-tails.com/2021/09/17/029-french-75/
“Casablanca is the Best Cocktail Movie of All Time,” Eater, https://www.eater.com/2015/10/13/9510213/casablanca-ricks-cafe-americain-cocktails
“Historic Beer Birthday: Harry MacElhone,” Brookstone Beer Bulletin,