Get Introduced To The Tom Collins Varieties at Henry's Majestic, Proof + Pantry and Gemma.
You're sitting at a bar, looking over the cocktail menu, assaulted with names of spices and bitters and alcohols that you don't even have the slightest goddamn clue about. You glance around woefully at your fellow bar friends, who all seem to be functioning perfectly well in this stressful situation. Panic grips your chest as the bartender saunters over to ask you what you'll be imbibing. Then you remember that article on Central Track that told you about the best cocktails in town and how different spots make them. And you realize that you're good. Because All Mixed Up has your back.
In the days before central air and bladeless Dyson fans, keeping cool during the summer months was a struggle.
Your cool-down options were limited: You could take a dip in a pool, break open fire hydrants or, perhaps, sip on some iced drinks to keep that trickle of sweat running down your back from turning into a deluge.
Of course, the iced beverages that the adults from those days of yore so often cradled in their hand tended to employ generous use of liquor– because, hey, if you're nice and buzzed, do you really notice the rubber-melting heat radiating from the sidewalk?
Perhaps more than any other cocktail out there, the Tom Collins fits that bill. And, even today, when the thermometer starts approaching those triple-digits, the drink once again pops up on cocktail menus all over town. And rightly so: The Tom Collins is a great respite from hellacious heat.
Its origins, as with the case with most cocktails, are disputed, but the most likely scenario is that it was derived from a popular punch served in London during the 1920s. The story goes as follows: John Collins, the headwaiter at London's Limmer Hotel, served patrons a very popular punch consisting of English gin, lemon juice, sweetener and iced soda water to help keep his guests cool. He didn't invent it, but he sure was remembered for it. Later, when the formal Tom Collins was invented and made an Old Tom gin, Collins' last name was properly honored in the cocktail's name.
A second, more dramatic story has origins in America. A man around town known as Tom Collins had, shall we say, a harsh way with words whenever he spoke of his fellow patrons at the various taverns he'd visit. He'd say all sorts of profane things about these people — folks that he may or may not have previously met — and, inevitably, word would get back to the person whose good name was being besmirched. And before long, all hopped up on adrenaline and testosterone, these victims would rush to the bar that Collins was said to frequent and ask after him only to instead be served a sour cocktail. Turns out, Tom Collins never existed. He was a ruse used to generate interest in a drink. The scandal became known as The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874, and it had run its course that American bartender Jerry Thomas published the recipe for a Tom Collins in his second edition of The Bartenders Guide.
But whatever. We don't love this cocktail for it's history. We adore it for its simple, refreshing quality. And various bartenders around Dallas have figured out how the take that refreshing flavor to the next level. Here, we take a look at three of our favorites.
Ginger Snap Pea Collins.
Henry's Majestic (4900 McKinney Avenue).
Henry's Majestic is a peculiar gem at the northern end of the popular McKinney Avenue strip. It's peculiar mostly because it doesn’t quite look like a bar you'd expect to find on McKinney. In other words: It's not the kind of place you'd expect to see packed with SMU alumni; it isn't bursting at the seams with girls in cocktail dresses and guys in painful clashes of pastels. It's far more subdued, more approachable. I mean, sure, it's still what could be called and upscale restaurant, but you'll see old friends sharing a meal and some cocktails more often than you'll find some young twenty-somethings making yet another stop on their bar crawl.
The bar at Henry's Majestic follows suit, with manager Alex Fletcher catering to his varied clientele with a menu that features wine and beer as well as his cocktail program. But it's the cocktails that shine brightest. Credit Fletcher there: He's the sort of inventive bartender you want cooking up your elixir. And what isn't on the menu, he can make off-the-cuff, as he does with his brow-cooling take on the Tom Collins.
“This is the first time I've made it,” he admitted the first time I asked him to whip one up.
Then, he started chopping up a pod of sugar snap peas, forcing my eyebrows to climb into my hairline.
Turns out it's not so crazy: After tossing the chopped peas into his shaker, Fletcher muddles them and adds some Fords Gin and ginger syrup, all of which he shakes together. It's quite inventive, really. Sugar snap peas may seem extremely unorthodox in this cocktail, but they posses a subdued, tangy quality in their raw form and thus add some nice complexity to the drink. The ginger syrup in his Fletcher's take, meanwhile, replaces simple syrup to bring in that refreshing quality you get from ginger opening up your taste receptors.
Even though this drink isn't on the menu, I'll go ahead and say that you're severely amiss if you don't ask for it on a warm summer afternoon.
The Honey Tom Collins.
Proof + Pantry (1722 Routh Street).
Dallas Arts District.
Proof + Pantry boasts about as serious a cocktail program as can be found in Dallas. which isn't altogether surprising, considering that the spot exists as a showcase for master area barman Michael Martensen. Martensen, who developed the bar menus at Cedar's Social and the now-closed Driftwood, is arguably the most prolific bartender in Dallas. And for good reason: I don't think Martensen is capable of making a bad drink.
His update on the Tom Collins is no different — although, it should be said, his standard version is downright perfect in its own right. Of course, his house-spin on the Collins is something else entirely, and by design, too.
When making riffs on classic cocktails, Martensen says, he thinks of drinks on a 10-point scale: “The original, basically that's your five. That's our standard. Now let's make our recipes, and if they taste better, smell better, present better, then that's above a five.”
The Honey Tom is definitely above a five. Using honey as the natural sweetener it is, he take some honey syrup instead of the simple syrup to his mix of Old Tom gin and soda water, then adds in a light drizzle of the French cordial framboise. The result is a Tom Collins, sure, but with much deeper flavor profile. It's a refreshing drink, but the honey is such a more sudued, easy-going sweetener compared to the regular simple syrup, that the flavors of the gin and framboise stand out.
And, yes, of course it's delicious. C'mon, like this guy doesn't know what he's doing?
Beet the Heat.
Gemma (2323 N Henderson Avenue).
In just a few short years, Gemma has established itself as a favorite restaurant for diners looking for a unique, well-rounded menu with thoughtfully sourced foods. The creation of husband wife team Steve Rogers and Allison Yoder — Rogers works in the kitchen, Yoder acts as the general manager — the restaurant clearly deserves the abundance of praise it's been receiving of late.
But, I gotta say, its cocktails are criminally overlooked. While critics titter away about the food for hundreds of words, the cocktails at this beautiful little restaurant nary elicit a mention. And that's plain foolish, considering you'd be hard pressed to find a better seasonal cocktail menu in all of Dallas.
Credit Yoder, who prides herself on her cocktail research and development, for that. She's an inventive sort, to be sure. Which is why she uses beets in her restaurant's Collins. Yes, beets. So hot right now. Beets. And she calls it Beet the Heat, ever so fittingly.
For this drink, Yoder starts by infusing No. 209 gin with roasted beets for about 24 hours. After mixing the infused gin with a ginger liqueur and some lime juice, the drink is poured over ice and topped with ginger ale and a mint garnish.
“That drink was tough,” Yoder admits when discussing its creation. “It took a good six weeks to finish.”
It's worth all that effort, though. The resulting Tom Collins is a summer cocktail anyone with a love for gin and beets could enjoy. The earthy notes of the beets complements well the subtle botanicals of the gin. Meanwhile, the lime juice helps to bring a needed edge to the affair. Finally, the ginger smooths it all out, making for a drink you could sip on all summer long and not regret a second.