The Return of Punch
The big cocktail in a bowl makes a comeback
Hanging out in New York City in the late 1700s, you might find yourself at the Queen’s Head Tavern—now known as the Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan—splitting a bowl of punch with some friends. Today, a few miles away in the East Village, Death & Co has brought that tradition back.
Before there were cocktails, there were punches: mixed drinks made in large quantities, presented in bowls, and shared socially. And that’s what happens at places like Death & Co, which has three different punches, served in antique milk-glass punch bowls with matching glasses and a silver ladle. A bowl goes for $38, and serves about two rounds of drinks for four to six people. The lounge offers Fish House Punch, made with peach brandy, Cognac, and rum; Kill-Devil Punch, which includes pineapple juice, rum, and champagne; and Mothers Ruin Punch, a mix of gin, tea-infused vermouth, citrus juices, and champagne.
Served in Wallace Silversmiths 15-Piece Grande Baroque Punch Set,
“It’s a convenient way to entertain,” says Thad Vogler, a San Francisco–based bar consultant and the former bar manager at Jardinière and the Slanted Door. Vogler offered seven punches at Jardinière’s 10-year anniversary party. “I think the modern trend [of punch bowl service] is part of the trappings of revisiting all of the traditional drinking that happened before Prohibition,” he says.
At the Hawksmoor in London, General Manager Nick Strangeway has offered punch service since the bar opened two years ago, because it is a way to serve skillfully mixed drinks to large groups of people instead of resorting to “mundane” bottle service. Strangeway says he also likes the sense of drama the presentation creates, with the beautiful bowls and garnishes. The Hawksmoor serves six different punches by the bowl for two to ten people.
Punch, the Manly Drink
But the Hawksmoor’s punches—like a mix of pineapple-infused bourbon, passion fruit purée, lemon juice, maple syrup, pineapple juice, and Prosecco—are distant cousins of the drink’s original recipe. Punch used to follow a strict formula, says cocktail historian Wondrich. Originally, it was composed of five ingredients: spirits (rum, brandy, or Batavia arrack—see sidebar); sugar; water; citrus; and spice (usually grated nutmeg, but sometimes green or black tea). “It was like a martini,” says Wondrich. “There was a way to make punch, and there were a couple of allowable variations, but it wasn’t ‘anything goes.’”