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Discover a forgotten gem: The Shanghai Buck

By Mike Armstrong     

This is one of my favorite cocktails to introduce to people. I first started serving this drink when I had a bar/restaurant in Taichung, Taiwan. It was an amazing hit. I found myself making it for stories being written about our ex-pat venue. What made it popular for so many was that it is one of the few cocktails that started in Asia and became famous. The Singapore Sling from the Raffles Hotel in Singapore is the only other Asian that springs immediately to mind. Sadly, the Singapore Sling is still remembered by many; if one mentions the Shanghai Buck, there is usually a blank stare.

The drink originates from the Long Bar in Shanghai in the mid-1930s. The Long Bar was where the very wealthy drank. It is said because of this cocktail; bankers would leave for lunch and not return to work because it was so easy to drink all afternoon.  More Bacardi was sold in Shanghai than in any place in the world because of this cocktail, including Havana, New York and London. It is the precursor to the Moscow Mule, which came in the mid-1940s. However, there is no name attributed to the bartender who made up the cocktail other than it was Chinese bartender who worked behind the bar. This drink got lost when the Japanese took over Shanghai and closed all nightlife. If it had not been recorded by Charles Baker Jr. in his book “Gentleman’s Companion-The Exotic Drinking Book” in 1939, I believe the Shanghai Buck would have disappeared completely. As it is, few bartenders know this drink by memory. 

It is made with about 1 ½ to 2 ounces of Bacardi Rum, a splash of lime juice, 6 ounces of ginger beer (ginger ale works just fine with this drink) and a splash of grenadine (or pomegranate juice), and couple splashes of bitters (definitely don’t forget the bitters). A lime wedge garnish finishes it off. It is a beautiful color and beautiful taste; that goes down easy. 

I wouldn’t hold my breath to find a bartender in Carbon County that can make this wonderful, refreshing cocktail, or Wyoming, for that matter. However, it is easy to make and if you are looking for something a little different to drink when having friends over, this could be the cocktail.

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