Fanciulli Cocktail, from Music to the Glass

The Fanciulli cocktail must have got its name from somewhere. It’s just that no one has discovered where, and today there are two equally viable theories. The common denominator is that we’re talking about a drink that first appeared in the golden years of mixology, and that there’s music surrounding its origin.

Fanciulli Cocktail, the History

It’s generally agreed that 1910 is the cocktail’s most likely year of birth. Someone, at some point, in some place, decided to make a twist on the Manhattan by boosting its bitter notes. Needless to say, uncertainty reigns supreme concerning both the inventor’s name and the exact location of the invention’s creation.

On the latter point, it’s likely the city was New York and the bar was the one at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. If nothing else, we can say this because the Fanciulli’s recipe appears in the book Old Waldorf Bar Days (by Albert Stevens Crockett, 1931). Author suggests that the cocktail originated at the first performance of Giacomo Puccini’s opera La fanciulla del West, which premiered at the Metropolitan Theatre in New York on 10 December 1910.

The name, Crockett writes, may have been coined “by some wag who wanted to give ‘the boys’ a new cocktail”. The boys in question were the performers in the opera. Crockett also points out that the Italian word “fanciulli” translates as “the boys”, and the term is especially used when referring to young lads “on the banks of the Tiber; also in the environs of Vesuvius”.

Francesco’s Band

The story of La Fanciulla del West isn’t bad, but it does have the flaw of being uncertain. There happens to be a second hypothesis. And this one is supported by one of the Waldorf’s former bar managers, Frank Caiafa, and historian Philip Greene.

According to Caiafa and Green, the drink’s name is a tribute to musician and composer Francesco Fanciulli (1853-1915). Born in Tuscany in Porto Santo Stefano, he was American by adoption and from 1892 to 1897 he directed the United States Marine Band. But in his position as director of the band, Fanciulli committed an act of misconduct.

It was in 1897, during a parade on 1 June. One of Fanciulli’s superiors asked him to play an encore of a march composed by John Philip Sousa, who was Fanciulli’s predecessor as head of the band and a rather burdensome personality. Fanciulli refused, but in doing so he disobeyed a direct order and was thus arrested for insubordination and insulting behaviour towards a superior officer. The then Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt (and future US President) interceded to have Fanciulli’s sentence reduced, but it wasn’t enough to prevent his dismissal from the Marine Band.

That wasn’t the end of Fanciulli’s career, however. He composed new works and formed an orchestra of his own, which became very famous and was the star of sold-out concerts in New York City’s Central Park. The latter detail also supports the theory that New York was the birthplace of the Fanciulli drink.

The Fanciulli Cocktail Recipe

Following proportions are those given by Albert Stevens Crockett in his Old Waldorf Bar Days (1931). The choice of whisky is left to your discretion, as long as it’s American. When choosing between bourbon and rye, experts point out that the former has softer notes that help balance the bitters. Those who prefer a more spicy flavour should opt for rye.


  • 35 ml whisky
  • 17.5 ml bitters
  • 17.5 ml Italian vermouth


Take a mixing glass, add ice cubes and then all the ingredients. Stir for 15-20 seconds to mix and cool the mixture. Strain into a cocktail glass.