Raise a glass to the legendary Don Rickles

Brian Rung

    On April 6 of this year we said goodbye to legendary stand-up comedian and actor, Don Rickles.
    Despite being known as “Mr. Warmth” and “The Merchant of Venom” Rickles became a loveable fixture of mid-century Americana through regular TV and film appearances spanning half a century.
    Rickles was never a heavy drinker, but he did run with the Rat Pack in 1960s Vegas and was known to knock back a few with the Chairman of the Board.
    After years of Martini-soaked after parties in Sin City, Rickles became a “no frills” drinker and only had cocktails with dinner.
    This week we raise a glass to the man that Frank Sinatra called “Bullet Head” as we pour Don's two favorite cocktails: Ginger and Rye and the Vodka Tonic.
    The name Don Rickles conjures up countless images and sound bites. His appearances on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast specials set the standard for celebrity roasting.
    The first celebrity ever roasted by Don Rickles was none other than Ol' Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra.
    In the era of twitter, internet memes, and “Saturday Night Live” making fun of celebrities is both an expectation and accepted cultural norm.
    Back in the 1950s, there were some celebrities that, by some sort of code or unwritten rule, were not made fun of. Sinatra was on that short list of celebrities.
    Rickles was performing in Miami in the late 1950s when he noticed Sinatra and his entourage were in attendance. Don called out Sinatra and remarked “I just saw your movie “The Pride and the Passion” and I want to tell you, the cannon's acting was great.”  Rickles followed that jab with, “Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody.”
    Sinatra loved Don's act so much that he helped him land a series of headline performances in Vegas.
    During his run in Vegas, Rickles was often booked alongside the Rat Pack.  Yes, they drank, that's a given. The Rat Pack worked every night, so each day they had to deal with what had to be epic hangovers to be in shape to perform again.
    Frank, Don and sometimes other members of the Rat Pack used to meet daily at the hotel steam room around 5 p.m. after sleeping all day.
    Once in the steam room, they would lock the door and “steam their brains out” according to Rickles.
    When the heat got to be too much, they would walk out of the sauna “feeling like a million bucks” as they went off to do their nightly shows.
    Grab a highball glass. It's time to pour a drink. Cue the Vegas lounge music on your phone to set the mood.
    Yes, this week's cocktails each contain only two ingredients. Know what? Two is enough.
    These are classic and delicious cocktails, and if Don Rickles had ever came to your home for dinner this is what he would have wanted.
    Let's start with the Ginger and Rye. Ginger soda has come a long, long way since your father and/or grandfather used to bring home the paper bag containing large glass bottle of Schweppes and a bottle of Old Overholt.
    There are several ginger sodas on the market today made by independent bottlers that turn out some amazing cocktails.
    Of the new breed of ginger sodas, my favorites are the Bruce Cost line of ginger sodas, Q Ginger Ale and Red Rock. If the only options in your neck of the woods are the mass produced brands, go with Canada Dry.  
    The craft cocktail movement has created a resurgent rye whiskey market, and many of the newcomers are quite good.
    I believe Angel's Envy to be the best rye on the market, followed closely by Knob Creek, WhistlePig and Templeton. Bulleit Rye is also a dynamite rye and an exceptional value.
    Use your favorite vodka in the Vodka Tonic, but it may be time to rethink the tonic. Sure, a tonic water from one of the mass produced brands is probably the most authentic in this case, but have you tried Fever Tree? Hansen's? Q Tonic? I am a fan of Fever Tree in any cocktail that calls for tonic, but several of the recent entrants to the market are outstanding.
    Unless you plan on making a long night of it, buy the smaller bottles or six ounce cans of tonic water and ginger ale.
    They usually come is packs of four or six bottles, perfect for stocking your home bar.
    Most two-ingredient mixed drinks are served in highball glasses.
Ginger and Rye
    Fill glass with ice.
    Add 1.5 oz rye whiskey.
    Top with ginger soda.
    Garnish with lemon wedge.
    Serve with stir stick.
Vodka Tonic
    Fill glass with ice.
    Add 1.5 oz vodka.
    Top with your favorite tonic water.
    Garnish with lime.
    Optional dash of orange bitters.
    Serve with stir stick.
    In addition to his contributions to American comedy and cinema, Rickles also served as a seaman first class in the United States Navy during World War II.
    He performed at inaugurations for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and won a Prime Time Emmy Award for the 2007 documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project.
    “Every night when I go out on stage, there's always one nagging fear in the back of my mind. I'm always afraid that somewhere out there, there is one person in the audience that I'm not going to offend.”
— D. Rickles
    Until next week, enjoy responsibly.