Calgary’s Claim to Caesar Fame
A local invention, this cocktail is a must-try.
When in Calgary, do as the Calgarians do. And we don’t mean bull bustin’ or drilling for oil. We’re talking about drinking a spicy blend of mashed clam and tomato.
Not salivating yet?
That’s completely normal. It usually takes a taste of the real thing to create a Caesar believer. But the 34 million Canadians who consume 350 million Caesars a year must be on to something.
This cocktail legend began 41 years ago. Our story starts in 1969 with a bar manager by the name of Walter Chell. While working at the Calgary Inn, now the Westin Calgary, Chell was charged with creating a signature cocktail for the opening of the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Marco’s.
Italian in heritage himself, Chell spent months in experimental mixing before drawing inspiration from one of the new restaurant’s menu items, Spaghetti Vongele – better known as spaghetti with clams. Chell usedhis expert hand to mash clams into a mushy nectar, which he then mixed with tomato juice.
The addition of a quick hit of spice, Italian oregano, a dash of sweet Worcestershire Sauce and an ounce of vodka was all it took to complete Chell’s masterpiece. He crowned it with a festive celery stick, and named it for the Roman Emperor. The Caesar was born.
Chell shills clam chills without the clam shells. Around the same time in 1969, a beverage company in California was also experimenting with a clam and tomato juice blend. The company was none other than the now famous Motts. Motts hired Chell to advise on a premixed version of the blended juice, aptly called Clamato.
A national advertising campaign was launched that featured Chell dispensing some sage Caesar advice – making the cocktail and Clamato household names. We can only imagine the rejoicing of the busy bartenders and home mixologists all over Canada who now no longer needed to shell and crush their clams to make an incredible drink.
Today, our lives are garnished with suspense. Despite the recipe alterations over the years, critical to a Caesar’s success is still the garnish. Every Caesar aficionado prefers something different – making ordering one somewhere new an event with more tension than playoff hockey.
From the moment you order, your mind races: Will my Caesar be adorned with traditional celery? A spicy pickled bean? Perhaps an olive? Is this place fancy enough for shrimp? Or have I, at long last, stumbled upon on the elusive pickled asparagus?
All you can do is order and see. Sometimes you get nothing: a straw and spiced rim have never looked so lonely. Other times Lady Luck crowns your Caesar with both an olive and a pickled bean. Experiment for yourself by ordering from a few different venues until you're ready to declare your garnish of choice.
So where in Calgary can you get this magical cocktail? The short answer is just about anywhere with a liquor licence. The Caesar is absolutely prolific, but the really good Caesars travel in good company. Namely: Steak.
The Caesar’s original birthplace in the Westin Calgary is now the 4th Avenue Keg Steakhouse where many locals say the best Caesar can be found. Mind you, a whole band of fanatics claim Caesar’s Steakhouse has the true winner. Luckily, these two restaurants are only a block apart, making Caesar hopping a taxi-free activity.Buchanan’s Chop House and Ruth’s Chris Steak House are sure-fire options to try. Rumour also has it that Smuggler’s Inn will add horseradish upon request, making it a promised land for those who like a little extra kick.
Do try this at home. You too can make a killer Caesar by remembering the "One, Two, Three, Four Rule." In a glass rimmed with celery salt – a salt and cracked pepper blend will also do – place one ounce of vodka, two dashes of hot sauce, three dashes of salt and pepper and four dashes of Worcestershire Sauce before topping up the concoction with Clamato juice. Garnish with a crisp celery stick, and the rest will be a delicious sip of Calgary history.