Brian Evans thinks every hotel bar needs a signature Whiskey Sour. While developing the menu for the new Lobby Bar at the revived Hotel Chelsea in New York, he debated whether his should be a classic egg white–laced version or something a little more obscure. Taking the latter route, he chose the Cameron’s Kick—a drink largely unknown outside of cocktail nerddom—to be his guide.
Invented by Scottish bartender Harry MacElhone in the early 1920s, the Cameron’s Kick is traditionally a split-base Whiskey Sour, featuring Irish whiskey and Scotch, along with lemon juice and orgeat. It first appeared in MacElhone’s 1922 book Harry of Ciro’s ABCs of Mixing Cocktails, and appears again in his famous Barflies and Cocktails, published in 1927. He brought the drink with him from Ciro’s Club in London to the New York Bar in Paris, which he bought in 1923. He famously rechristened the expat haunt at “sank roo doe noo” (5 Rue Daunou) as Harry’s New York Bar, and it was a favorite of figures like Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth and Ernest Hemingway.
It’s no surprise that the Cameron’s Kick has found a home at the newly reopened Hotel Chelsea. The Lobby Bar cocktail menu makes reference to the years following the Second World War, during which the same kind of creative, bohemian energy that had swirled around at the Prohibition-era Harry’s New York Bar took up residence in the Chelsea Hotel. There are cocktails named after Edie Sedgwick and the William S. Burroughs novel Naked Lunch, and the Cameron’s Kick variation that Evans developed is called Two Dylans, referring to Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas, both of whom once lived in the Chelsea Hotel.
In his Two Dylans, Evans pairs Irish whiskey with lemon, cherry tomato, fresh curry leaf and macadamia orgeat. The notable exclusion of Scotch bears out Evans’ view that the Cameron’s Kick has always felt more like an Irish whiskey cocktail—and an “underrated” one at that—than a Scotch drink, despite its traditional split base. In lieu of the spirit, he points to curry leaf, which he says lends the kind of “toasty popcorny” flavor that Scotch might impart.
Though technically a fruit, the tomato adds a vegetal quality to balance the traditional trio of spirituous, sour and sweet elements. The flavor can often read as summery, but Evans feels the drink is evergreen, which is key to his bartending ethos, eschewing the hyperseasonality that has been so popular in recent years. “Throughout my flavor-pairing journeys, I’ve really been more interested in ways of transcending seasons,” he says. “Like making a tomato cocktail very winter-friendly, for example.”
Though each of the elements in the original drink contribute to its unexpected profile, it was orgeat that first attracted Evans to the Cameron’s Kick back in 2015, when he was doing a deep dive on cocktails that used the nutty syrup. While the French almond syrup has been available to American bartenders since at least the 1860s and pops up in a handful of memorable 19th- and early 20th-century cocktails, it’s more often associated with tiki drinks, thanks in no small part to the Mai Tai. Along with the Japanese Cocktail and the Army and Navy, the Cameron’s Kick is one of the few nontropical orgeat drinks to have persisted into the 21st century. Evans used to make a version of the drink as a bartender’s choice, and it was a consistent hit with customers, but it wasn’t until he created his signature macadamia nut orgeat that he started experimenting with the template in earnest.
Swapping macadamia nuts in for almonds isn’t the only thing that makes Evans’ orgeat unique. Unlike traditional orgeat recipes, he replaces water with coconut water, which adds dimension and contributes to the drink’s unctuous mouthfeel.
From the unorthodox orgeat to the unexpected curry leaf garnish, the classic Cameron’s Kick template has proved an ideal canvas for bringing together seemingly disparate elements and neatly repackaging them as a Whiskey Sour variation that guests can enjoy year-round. As Evans explains, “It was kind of like a weird Venn diagram of linking all these potential flavor opportunities.”