The Flea Bag Sidecar

I don’t know about you, but I’ve crashed out in a lot of memorable sleeperies over the years. I slept in the Paris hotel where Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn filmed exterior scenes for Charade; during that same vacation, I stayed at a London hostel with co-ed rooms, a first for me. It was a little startling one night to wake up, see a woman slip naked from the bed next to mine, wrap a towel around herself, and exit to the bathroom.

charade

I once drove to Louisiana with some friends and their dawgs. We stopped along the way at a seedy little motel on the side of I-55 north of Jackson, Miss. I pulled back the bedspread and found a burn hole in the sheets, right next to the cigarette butt that had made it. Creepy. On the other hand, we got ribeye steaks delivered in for dinner, and I don’t know many other places in this world that will bring seared ribeyes to your door. The dawgs ate outside.

One thing I’ve learned, whether it’s a roadside joint, a place with live nude girls, or a quaint Parisian hotel, all I need is a place to sleep.

One place I’ve never stayed is the Hôtel Ritz in Paris, and since rooms start at 550 € a night (about $760 US), I don’t think I’ll be staying there soon. I could, however, stop at the famous Ritz Bar and have a drink. Ted Haigh (yes, him again) details one such drink in Vintage Spirits (yes, that book again), the Ritz Sidecar. It’s a simple drink, really–cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, just like a normal Sidecar. What makes it ritzy, though, is the particular cognac. At the time of writing, the barman at the Ritz was using an 1853 E. Remy Martin bottling. Mmmmmmm. The drink costs less than one night’s stay in the hotel, although not significantly so, 400 € ($559 US). That physically hurts, so let’s look at other options.

Let’s call this the Flea Bag Sidecar:

Flea Bag Sidecar

Photograph by Jennifer Hess. Prices that follow come from BevMo.com and may vary based on where you’re located.

For this exercise, buy yourself an American brandy. Fuckin’ do it. It will lack the subtle richness and full mouthfeel of a good cognac, but you’re not sipping it from a snifter, you’re mixing it with other stuff. A Sidecar made from American brandy lacks the complexity of one made from cognac, but this post is about going cheap. And having mixed up a couple of these tonight, I just want to say, they’re pretty good.

A 1.75L bottle of E&J VSOP will run you $17.99 right now at BevMo. This is a bottle you could club a seal with and it’ll cost you less than a Jackson. Not bad. By the way, does E&J ring a bell? No? Maybe Ernest & Julio Gallo will, then.

Cointreau is simply a triple sec, an orange-flavored liqueur made from dried orange peels. It happens to be the best of the triple secs, but it’s also probably the most expensive, unless the barman at the Ritz has a bottle from the cellars of Louis XIII. Go down-market with a liter of Hiram Walker for $9.99. You can make a damn lot of Sidecars from these two bottles.

I don’t know the national-average price for lemons these days, but you can probably get one for about 50¢.

Jen and I like our Sidecars a little tart, so here’s the ratio I like to generally use:

  • 1-1/2 oz. brandy
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. triple sec

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled mixing glass, and smile.

Now let’s just go ahead and price this out. It’s tricky since the bottles are measured in liters and the recipe’s in ounces. I’ll do the math for you and keep it all to myself. Since this isn’t math class, and you’re not Mrs. Abernathy, I don’t need to show my work.*

(On an cents-per-ounce basis, the lemon juice is surprisingly the most expensive ingredient here. You might cut corners further and use Realemon or some other soul-crushing bastardization, but then you’d be the sort of person who eats Spam and Velveeta sandwiches, and I wouldn’t want to know you.)

So, here’s the cost of this Sidecar. Are you ready?

$1.00 US (or .71 €), and that’s if you pay retail prices for all ingredients.

*Oh, all right. 1.75 liters (the brandy) equal 59 ounces. 1 liter (the triple sec) is 34 ounces. (Both figures are rounded off.) At $17.99 a bottle for 59 ounces, the brandy costs 30¢ an ounce. The triple sec is about the same, 29¢ an ounce. You’ll need just one lemon to get 3/4 oz. of juice, and you’ll have a bit of leftover, so you’ll use about 40¢ worth of juice.

3 thoughts on “The Flea Bag Sidecar

  1. One of my actual life goals is to live in a hotel. Even tending a one-bedroom apartment is a nightmare for me. Imagine it: clean sheets every morning, a few suits, a laptop, a couple books and some toiletries. And some shadowy contacts waiting for you in the lobby for 11 a.m. cocktails. The true home is the mind. Everything else, year after year, feels more and more like so much debris.
    That being said, maybe this dream will be more attainable by economizing with 99¢ drinks. I can think of about seven bartenders who will have to drop out of grad school if I enact the plan, but hey, you’ve break some eggs…
    Great post.

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