Going Out? Don’t Forget Your Speakeasy Membership Card

Stork Club Speakeasy card

Actual Stork Club card from the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

In the 1930s and 40s, the Stork Club — owned by the dapper Sherman Billingsley — was the hottest nightclub and restaurant in New York City. So when I clicked on Slate.com to find photographs of real membership cards to the city’s speakeasies, I nearly fell out of my chair. It’s pretty remarkable that some forward-thinking tippler managed to keep track of his cards and preserve them for posterity. But here they are, part of the rare manuscripts collection at Cornell University. Phew.

For those unfamiliar with the Stork Club, it was a hangout for the country’s elite, from entertainers like Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball to politicians like Ronald Regan and John F. Kennedy, Jr. On any given night, the “King of Swing” Benny Goodman and his orchestra would be performing, while the club’s patrons canoodled over Champagne, cocktails, and caviar. Society writer Lucius Beebe summed up the club’s status in a 1946 book: “To millions and millions of people all over the world the Stork symbolizes and epitomizes the de luxe upholstery of quintessentially urban existence. It means fame; it means wealth; it means an elegant way of life among celebrated folk.”

To see an actual, remaining piece of this history is really exciting. I think this news deserves a toast — and what could be more appropriate than the Stratosphere, a Champagne and Creme Yvette (or crème de violette) cocktail that was served way back when at the Stork Club, as documented in the 1946 Stork Club Bar Book. I like mine less sweet, so I’ve reduced the liqueur amount, but feel free to adjust.

The Stratosphere

5 ounces Brut Champagne

1/2 ounce Crème Yvette (or crème de violette)

Pour Champagne into a flute. When foaming subsides, slowly add Crème Yvette (or crème de violette). Serve.