The Seelbach Cocktail is One Drink Where the Story Has the Twist
Story by Molly Wellmann; Photography by Stephen Devries
The Seelbach Hotel in Louisville is one of the most beautiful classic hotels in the country. Built by Otto and Louis Seelbach in 1905, the hotel was once the most glamorous spot for billiards, cards, and leisure in Louisville.
Al Capone was a frequent blackjack player. And F. Scott Fitzgerald—who drank at the Seelbach when he was on leave as a young soldier serving at Camp Zachary Taylor—may have based his iconic Jay Gatsby on another guest, George Remus, the so-called “King of the Bootleggers,” although there is no proof they ever crossed paths.
With all of that going for it, you would assume the Seelbach would have a signature cocktail. And it does…now.
The story goes that a newlywed couple from New Orleans visited the Seelbach for their honeymoon. The gentleman ordered a Manhattan, and the lady, a glass of Champagne. As the cocktails were being delivered to the couple, the server carrying the tray was bumped, some Champagne spilled into the Manhattan, and voila! The Seelbach Cocktail was born.
That’s the story that premier bartender Adam Seger shared when he took over the Seelbach’s bar and restaurant operations in 1995. He said he had found the long-lost recipe while going through Seelbach menus that dated to pre-Prohibition.
The cocktail was a hit. People came from all over to order the drink and hear the story.
The only thing was…it wasn’t true. Seger finally came clean in 2001 and confessed that he had made the whole thing up when he couldn’t find a signature cocktail. It’s not a bad thing, though. The Seelbach Cocktail is worthy of a tall tale—it’s delicious! It’s refreshing and light but has enough body from the bourbon to make it a serious drink. The addition of the two types of bitters gives it body, and the Champagne gives it fizz.
When I’m serving cocktails, I find it important to have a little background or a story to go with the libation. That way you’re not just having a drink; you are having an experience, one that takes you back to another time and place. And after a long day of work, isn’t that sometimes where you want to be?
- 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
- 1/2 ounce triple sec
- 6 to 7 dashes Angostura bitters
- 6 to 7 dashes Peychaud bitters
- 4 to 5 ounces Champagne
- Lemon twist
Add bourbon, triple sec, and bitters to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir to chill. Strain into a cocktail glass or flute and top off with Champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist. Enjoy!