Jun 13

1960s Calgary: Hail Caesar

by Kristy · 0 comments

Sitting down for breakfast the morning after a raucous Stampede party, and ordering a Caesar to help expedite your recovery is a tradition many Calgarians are familiar with.  What may not be familiar though, is that the Caesar rose to fame right here in the city, in the heart of downtown! Most restaurants serve Caesars in one form or another and a plethora are available downtown. Local on 8th offers a version in a boot-shaped glass, while Klein/Harris modernizes their version with a house-made clam and celery broth.

Some garnish their Caesars with celery, others with asparagus, pickled beans, bacon, or beef jerky. Shrimp, burger sliders, chicken wings and pickles have all made an appearance at some point, skewered onto the side of a celery-salt rimmed glass, as have cheese sticks, pepperoni, and waffles. For a time, it seemed restaurants were in competition to make the biggest, baddest, most outlandishly garnished version of this classic cocktail. The original though, is much simpler.

Retrieved from @westincalgary on Instagram

There are a few different versions of the cocktail’s origin story, but the most popular begins in 1969 when a man by the name of Walter Chell was working at the Owl’s Nest bar at the Calgary Inn, what is now the Westin. As the story goes, Chell was tasked with creating a cocktail to celebrate the opening of Marco’s, an Italian restaurant that was to open in the hotel.

Inspired by the Italian dish Spaghetti Vongole (Chell had Italian roots), clam juice, worcestershire sauce, vodka, salt, pepper, and celery salt were combined in perfect harmony to create a drink that would become purely Canadian. Around the same time, the Duffy Mott Company patented their now-famous Clamato juice. The story gets a bit murky and there doesn’t seem to be an official answer as to whether or not they had been working on a tomato-clam blend before Chell’s creation, or whether they had employed him to consult on the beverage, as other sources suggest.

Walter Chell, source unknown

There is also the problem of the tomato-clam-vodka based cocktails that appeared in various cocktail and mixology books in the 1940s. Despite being featured in old-time American mixology books, the cocktail is pretty well only consumed north of the 49th. If you order one anywhere else, you’ll most likely be brought a salad, or be met with a blank stare. Upon explaining the drink, the closest thing on offer will be a Bloody Mary, made with a white-salt rim and tomato juice instead of the Clamato. Whatever the case may be, Mott’s uses the story of Walter Chell on their website, and the company is obviously happy to attach itself to our Canadian tale. After all, Canada, especially Calgary, put the Caesar on the map!

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