You haven't experienced Christmas in Cortland until you've sipped on the Community Restaurant's signature holiday drink. A staple of historic downtown Cortland, the Community Restaurant swung open its doors in 1929 during the height of prohibition.
Behind the sparkle of the restaurant's elaborate holiday decor is a nod to its over 90-year history captured in black and white photos lining the wall. Thankfully, prohibition is long since over, and no secret knock is required to enjoy a sampling from Central New York's most extensive collection of bourbon lining the bar walls. That, however, isn't what draws locals and visitors alike in during this season. They come for a cocktail with a cult following, the Tom & Jerry.
While the inception of the Tom & Jerry is a bit murky at best, it is widely believed to have been inspired by British writer and journalist Pierce Egan during the 1820s. The drink's name is said to be a nod to Egan's book, Life in London (or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom.), which would be, shortly after publication, scripted into a play. Think of it as the 1820s version of book to movie. Like every successful movie, Life in London required a good gimmick to fill the seats. And what better than a stiff drink to enthrall audiences? So, Egan concocted a variation on eggnog by adding a half ounce of brandy, calling it a "Tom and Jerry." What elevates a Tom & Jerry from commonplace eggnog is all in the wrist. A true Tom& Jerry is made by carefully folding eggs with sugar, creating a light and foamy beverage.
While the laborious Tom & Jerry's slowly faded from popular culture throughout the years, the Community diligently kept the tradition alive. For generations, during the month of December, folks have saddled up to the bar for this culinary delight. Equal parts dessert and cocktail, there's nothing quite like wapping your cold fingers around a warm mug and breathing in deep the heavenly scent. Topped with freshly grated nutmeg, this frothy, warm milk punch is reminiscent of hot cocoa from your childhood and leaves you transported.
Each season, the Community gingerly unpacks a large brown punch bowl and matching mugs and sets them in the place of pride on the corner of the bar. Carefully handpainted on the side of the bowl is Tom & Jerry in gold guiling. It catches the warm light of the holiday bulbs and twinkles it back. Laughter comes easy this time of year, and strangers at the bar become fast friends.
If you would like to indulge in this timeless Cortland County holiday tradition, you can make reservations at the Community by visiting thecommunityrestaurant.com or call (607) 756-5441. Especially popular during the holiday season, it is recommended you call ahead.
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