A Forgotten Gin Cocktail, the Army Navy, Makes a Comeback

At Dutch Kills in Long Island City, the orgeat-laced gin sour known as the Army Navy (or the Army & Navy) has long been a house favorite. On the bar’s classics menu, though, it’s not just any old Army & Navy—it’s “(Lou’s) Army Navy.” 

One day many years ago, Lou, longtime regular and now-retired FDNY firefighter, was served an Army & Navy as a bartender’s choice. She liked it so much that it became her go-to drink at the bar. Lou was particularly fond of the cocktail cherries used at Dutch Kills and asked for one with her Army & Navy. In addition, instead of having the Angostura bitters shaken into the drink, she requested they be dashed on top. When the bar decided to add an Army & Navy to the official menu, Dutch Kills general manager Matty Clark suggested they serve it Lou’s way. “I said, ‘We should do Lou’s Army Navy and serve it the way Lou likes it, because that’s the Dutch Kills way of making an Army Navy at this point,” he says. It has become the bar’s default presentation for the classic. 

The original Army & Navy dates to at least the 1930s, where it may have been born in an American-style bar in London, perhaps as a reference to the annual Army-Navy college football game. One of the first mentions of the drink is in the 1937 edition of the Café Royal Cocktail Book, where its name, but not its recipe, is listed. The first complete recipe we have for the Army & Navy was published in David Embury’s 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, wherein the author gives a ratio of two parts gin to one part each lemon juice and orgeat, with no bitters. Embury, who preferred a far stiffer ratio than published, notes, “I have given the original recipe which, to my mind, is horrible.” The Dutch Kills version skews in Embury’s preferred direction.

Though the presence of orgeat may bring up visions of the Mai Tai and Royal Hawaiian, Clark doesn’t think of the Army & Navy as a tropical sour at all. Instead, it belongs to a category of nontropical orgeat sours, along with classics like the Cameron’s Kick (Scotch, Irish whiskey, lemon, orgeat) and the Coo-ee Special (gin, lemon, orgeat, absinthe), which is a favorite of Clark’s.

With the Army & Navy’s sparse build, the choice of gin has a big effect on the drink, but it doesn’t require a certain brand of gin to be successful, according to Clark. “It plays well with all gin, and every gin changes the taste,” he says. Each bottling shifts the interplay among the flavors—the gin’s botanicals, the orgeat’s grounding nuttiness and floral notes and the spiced flavor of the Angostura bitters. For years, Dutch Kills used Citadelle gin in the drink, which lent a floral quality; the bar now uses Fords, which is a bit drier.

Orgeats, too, vary widely in their viscosity and intensity of flavor. Some years ago, Dutch Kills doubled the sugar in its housemade orgeat, dropping the amount used in the Army & Navy spec accordingly from three-quarters of an ounce to a half-ounce. The bar’s “rich” orgeat (2:1, sugar to fresh almond milk) lends a pleasant heft to its version of the drink.

Clark says that the Army & Navy isn’t immediately recognizable to most patrons when they encounter it on the Dutch Kills menu. “I don’t think many people are familiar with it—it kind of hides in obscurity.” But those who try it are pleasantly surprised, he says. Some get hooked, just like Lou.

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