The last guest will check out of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at noon on Wednesday, and the Manhattan landmark will not host another for an indefinite amount of time.
The1,412-room hotel is closing for at least two years while it is transformed into a mostly-residential building by its new Chinese owners, Anbang Insurance Group, which bought the property for $2 billion in 2014.
To those who’ve sought respite and spirits at the hotel’s mainstays — Peacock Alley, Bull & Bear and Sir Harry’s — the hotel’s treasured food and beverage manager since 2005, Frank Caiafa, bequeaths more than 800 cocktail recipes and tutorialsin hisWaldorf Astoria Bar Book.
Unlikedestination barsthat attract a crowd willing to wait for and pay for craft cocktails, Caiafa explained, the Waldorf’s bars were filled with travelers and their guests seeking quick service with a smile.
“Tailoring the cocktail list to produce extraordinary cocktails in a timely fashion in a complex arena – I’m most proud of that,” he told Metro.
In his bible of bar knowledge Caiafa pairs nearly every concoction with a slice of Manhattan or Waldorf history, linking the cocktails with the hotel’s other innovations, such as the Waldorf salad and red velvet cake, in immortality.
“I wrote the book to be timeless — that’s why there are no photos,” Caiafa said. “Like a piece of glassware that goes out of style, the culture changes. If you made a book in the ’90s you might have some kind of blue curaçao, or some goofball pink whale — it really dates it, and takes up space.”
The recipes are based largely on his own creationsand updates from two Prohibition era books: The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book (1934) and Old Waldorf Bar Days (1931). Both were written by the journalistand sometimes Waldorf public relations personAlbert Stevens Crockettwhile the hotel was located onFifth Avenue where the Empire State Building now stands. The hotelreopened at its current Park Avenue location in 1931.
Crockett’s books were infused with the atmosphere of a bygone speakeasy era, cocktails named for celebrity guests, and concoctions adapted (sometimes incorrectly) from a former barkeep’sapocryphal leather-bound notebook.
“Is anybody going to do anything with those two old books?” Caiafahadcasually mentioned at a meeting in 2010. “They said ‘that’s a great idea, it should be you!’ and from then it was just green light after green light.”
When Caiafa set out to write the book, nobody had an inkling that the Waldorf would be closing.
“Crockett wrote the book about a hotel that no longer existed. And now I wrote a book about a hotel that will no longer exist,” Caiafa said.
It was a six-year process for Caiafa to study, refine, update and reject thousands of cocktails.
“Plenty of booze went down my drain,” he said.
Caiafa intended to write a book for the layman with a passing interest in mixology,and he kept peeling away until the basics were there, he said, and what he excavated was a manual for both home and commercial bars.
“You have the backbone,” he said. If nothing else, Caiafa’sdetailed instructions for making homemade bitters and tinctures will prove indispensable for any budding bartender.
“You can veer off into whatever niche is going to be, you can dream of blended drinks, but I think this touches all the bases in a study reference book,” he said.
As for where Caiafa will veer next after the hotel closes this week, his options areas plentiful as the entries in the book spanning the hotel’s 124-year history.
“Looking forward to fielding some interesting new opportunities — after at least a four week break,” he said.