The Eugene origins of a trendy cocktail
by Molly Templeton
On an unremarkable night last year, I was at Luckey’s, and I was bored with my drink. “I don’t know what I want,” I said to the bartender.
“Have you had a Richmond gimlet?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “What’s that?”
|Jeffrey Morgenthaler at El Vaquero
Simply delicious was the answer: A gimlet made with Tanqueray No. 10, fresh lime, simple syrup and mint, it tasted like summer, bright, herbal, sweet and tart. I Googled it later, thinking for sure it was some secret Southern cocktail that had just recently made its way to the Pacific Northwest.
I was wrong. The Richmond gimlet, though certainly not the only gimlet variation in the world to use mint, is the particular creation of Jeffrey Morgenthaler, a bartender at El Vaquero whose blog turned up on that Google search — complete with Richmond gimlet recipe and sightings in other Eugene bars. I clearly had to try more. And I had to take Morgenthaler with me. Who better to try a migrating, evolving cocktail than the guy who mixed it up in the first place?
We met up at the Turtles bar, where owner Kate Boney made us a pair of sweetly wonderful Richmond gimlets. At Turtles, they replace simple syrup with sweet and sour and add Rose’s lime to the recipe; Boney said, “I found our clientele likes it with a little more sweetness to it.” She was also the first of many people, that evening, to say “I don’t like gin, but I like this.”
“It’s really good,” Morgenthaler said of Boney’s version, before giving me the short history of the drink. “In 2001, I was working at Bamboo, which was where Vaquero is now,” he began. “I had this guy that was the head waiter at Marché who would come up after work every night and have a Tanqueray 10 gimlet. We’d fool around with Beefeater gimlets and he’d always want something different.” One night, mint went in the drink. “He loved it,” said Morgenthaler, who later named the drink after the waiter, Daniel Richmond, and put it on the menu “kind of as a joke.”
The drink took off at Bamboo. Later, when Bamboo closed, Morgenthaler took it with him to Red Agave, Marché and Vaquero, but recently it’s turned up at several other bars in town. “It’s really exciting for me to see this dumb drink I came up with years ago spreading,” he said over mild, limeade-like Richmond gimlets at Luckey’s. “I mean, people go crazy — we make like a hundred of them in a night.”
Morgenthaler’s fellow Vaquero bartender Scott Butler, along for the tasting ride, said, “On a busy Friday, I’ll easily do 50. We go through three fifths of Tanqueray 10 on a busy night, easy.”
“On a busy night, we go through four,” Morgenthaler said. “We sell more Tanqueray 10 than any other bar in the state.”
“Tell her about the olive jar,” Butler said.
“Sometimes we get so many Richmond gimlets in one order —”
“If someone orders eight —”
“We have an olive jar —”
“A big Costco lookin’ thing that we cleaned out —”
“Like a pickle jar. We’ll make eight of them in that,” Morgenthaler finished. Butler added, “It’s like you’re making a pitcher of something for a party. We just need a giant strainer to go with it.”
The Luckey’s concoction, Morgenthaler said, was pretty good for a Richmond gimlet, but really good “as far as just a drink is concerned.” Glasses drained, we headed to Café Soriah, where we encountered Erin Carlin, one of the drink’s first fans. “We were addicted to them, just a little bit,” she said, laughing. “They’re just the perfect summertime drink.” At Soriah, Morgenthaler noticed, the Richmond gimlets are “a lot drier.” Still delicious, though.
We left Soriah to end the night at Marché, where Butler and Morgenthaler agreed the Richmond gimlet whipped up by bar manager James West was most like the drinks they make upstairs at Vaquero. “The way I like them,” Morgenthaler said, “is when they ride the line between sweet and sour just perfectly, like your mouth doesn’t really know where it’s at.”
The Marché Richmond gimlet certainly did that — but ultimately, though every gimlet we drank was very good and slightly different, the best place to get a Richmond gimlet is Vaquero. A week later, I tried one mixed by Butler and one by Morgenthaler, who had said, “I always tell people that Scott doesn’t make the second best Richmond gimlet in town, he makes the other best Richmond gimlet in town.” He wasn’t wrong — the drinks were both perfect. In fact, I think I’d like another. Now.
The Richmond Gimlet,
2 oz. Tanqueray No. 10 gin
1.5 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
Large sprig mint
Shake ingredients well over ice and strain into a chilled 9 oz. (at least) cocktail glass.