Happy Spring! The weather is getting warmer and it might be time for a nice cool cocktail out on your porch or in the backyard. As we are gearing up to open our new exhibit on all things Pullman, we thought we would share a cocktail recipe from Pullman’s Commissary Instructions for this month’s posting.

The Pullman Company was known for many things… Some of them were very positive such as innovative rail cars, exquisite service, world-class food; the list goes on. However, there are sadly many not-so-positive aspects of Pullman such as employment strikes, poorly paid workers, mistreatment of staff, et cetera. You can explore all things Pullman by visiting our latest exhibit, Wheels of Mis/Fortune, which is set to open in early May, 2022. For this blog post, however, we are going to explore the famed beverage service of Pullman and the origins of the Old Fashioned cocktail.

Figure 1 George Mortimer Pullman.

Pullman revolutionized rail travel in the mid-19th Century with the debut of his famous dining car, the Delmonico. Named after a New York steakhouse, which still exists today, the Delmonico made its debut in 1868. It featured two cooks and four waiters, and served 48 diners. Outfitted with white linens, crystal glasses, and fine silverware, it was quite the experience for the well-to-do traveler.

Figure 2 Delmonico’s on Beaver and William streets, by Robert L. Bracklow, 1849 – 1919. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Figure 3 Entrance to Delmonico’s today.

In addition to the beauty of his railcars, Pullman ensured the service aboard them was top-notch. This exceptional service would last well into the 20th century, long after George Pullman died in 1897.

At the Richardson Library at the Colorado Railroad Museum, we have a wonderful booklet of commissary instructions, which spells out exactly how Pullman conducted service. Revised in 1939, the introduction from the head of the commissary exemplifies the standards of service:

The regulations contained herein are general in character and should be observed in a manner that will not defeat their purpose, which is to make service popular.

The most important feature of an employe’s [sic] duty at all times and under any conditions is to please and satisfy passengers. When passengers request privileges that cannot lawfully or properly be granted, they should be politely informed that the request is beyond our authority. Do not resort to the expression ‘it is against the rules,’ but explain the matter in such a way as to avoid giving offense.

The reputation of the service depends as much upon the efficiency of employes [sic] as upon the facilities provided by the Company for the comfort of its patrons; it is necessary therefore, that employes [sic] in rendering service to passengers be obliging and courteous at all times–alert to anticipate their wants and diligent and cheerful in executing orders.”

-Lucian Clay “L.C.” Armfield, Pullman Commissary from 1927 to 1948

Figure 4 Passengers aboard a Southern Pacific buffet/library car, circa 1910.

This level of service was perhaps most evident during beverage service. Certain standards had to be met, such as presenting the liquor or wine bottle to the customer for their approval, then only opening the bottles in the presence of the passenger. Specific beverage glasses were used for specific kinds of drinks. The types of glasses were numbered and pictured in the Commissary Instructions to ensure waiters delivered drinks in the proper glass.

Figure 5 Pullman Company Commissary Instructions, 1939. Colorado Railroad Museum collection.

The details involved in serving beverages were quite detailed. For example, an Old Fashioned had no less than 20 steps to serve. You can also see some of the steps in Figure 4. For a rather simple cocktail, Pullman made everything more high end through very precise serving instructions.

Pullman Commissary Instructions for an Old Fashioned

  1. Made with Rye or Bourbon whiskey—ascertain from passenger brand desired.
  2. Arrange set-up in buffet; place on bar tray: individual bottle of whiskey, lying flat; glass (No. 3); glass (No. 2) full of plain ice cold water; cap knife; glass stirrer; and paper cocktail napkin. Attendant should carry clean glass towel on his arm with fold pointing toward his hand while rendering service.
  3. One small cube (or half of large tablet) sugar in glass (No. 3).
  4. Two teaspoonfuls water in glass (No. 3).
  5. Crush sugar into syrup with muddler; dissolve sugar thoroughly.
  6. Add two dashes Angostura Bitters.
  7. Put two cubes ice in glass (No. 3).
  8. ½ slice lemon, ½ slice orange—opposite sides within glass (No. 3).
  9. Add one red cherry into glass (No. 3).
  10. Proceed to passenger with above set-up.
  11. Place bar tray with set-up on table (or etc.).
  12. Place paper cocktail napkin on table in front of passenger.
  13. Present individual bottle of whiskey to passenger, displaying label, strip tax stamp, and Goldy seal, by holding bottle on sides between index finger and thumb.
  14. Open individual bottle of whiskey with cap knife in presence of passenger, pointing neck of bottle away from passenger; wipe top of bottle with clean glass towel.
  15. Pour contents of individual bottle of whiskey into glass (No. 3).
  16. Place glass (No. 3) containing drink on paper cocktail napkin.
  17. Stir with glass stirrer.
  18. Remove glass stirrer from glass (No. 3); wipe off with clean glass towel and place stirrer alongside glass (No. 3).
  19. Place glass (No. 2) containing plain ice cold water in front of passenger, near drink.
  20. Remove bar tray with equipment not needed by passenger and return to buffet.

Figure 6 Glass requirements for serving an Old Fashioned Cocktail. Page 36, Commissary Instructions, 1939. Colorado Railroad Museum collection.

But wait, you say, why is an Old Fashioned called an Old Fashioned? The origins of the drink date to the early 1800s in America. Supposedly in 1806 a writer inquired of a newspaper in Hudson, New York, “What is the meaning of the word ‘cocktail’?” The response was “a potent concoction of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar.” As cocktails became more complicated with the use of exotic liquors, like orange curaçao, around the time of the Civil War, the birth of the simplistic “Old Fashioned” came about. People came to bars and saloons desiring a cocktail the “old fashioned” way, and this meant an uncomplicated mixture of bitters, sugar, water, and whiskey. So, how about a nice Old Fashioned?

We hope you enjoy recreating Pullman’s version of an Old Fashioned cocktail. However you like it, please share how it turns out via the comments section, or our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages.

Modern Old Fashioned Recipe

1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon water
2 ounces bourbon
Garnish: orange peel

Add the sugar and bitters to a rocks glass, then add the water, and stir until the sugar is nearly dissolved.
Fill the glass with large ice cubes, add the bourbon, and gently stir to combine.
Express the oil of an orange peel over the glass, then drop in.

Past Dining on the Rails Posts:
Dining on the Rails: March 2022 – French Toast, Anyone?
Dining on the Rails: February 2022 – A Chocolatey Valentine’s Treat!
Dining on the Rails: January 2022 – Western Pacific Pork Tenderloin
Dining on the Rails: December 2021 – Cranberry Sauce
Dining on the Rails: November 2021 – Oyster Stuffing!
Dining on the Rails: October 2021 – Chicken Pot Pie
Dining on the Rails: September 2021 – Chili
Dining on the Rails: August 2021 – Pullman “Tom Collins” Cocktail
Dining on the Rails: June – How about a salad?
Dining on the Rails – Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ham!
Dining on the Rails: CRI&P’s New England Boiled Dinner
Dining on the Rails: A Sweet Treat for your Valentine!
Dining on the Rails: Black Eyed Peas!
Dining on the Rails: Eggnog
Dining on the Rails: Happy Thanksgiving!
Dining on the Rails: Union Pacific Apple Pie
Dining on the Rails, August 2020
Dining on the Rails, July 2020
Dining on the Rails, June 14, 2020
Dining on the Rails, June 7, 2020
Dining on the Rails, May 31, 2020
Dining on the Rails, May 24, 2020
Dining on the Rails, May 17, 2020
Dining on the Rails, May 10, 2020
Dining on the Rails, May 3, 2020
Dining on the Rails, April 26, 2020
Dining on the Rails, April 19, 2020
Dining on the Rails, April 12, 2020


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