Ladner Brothers

207 W. Madison Ave. (0N, 200W) Chicago, IL 60606 R.I.P. 1986

“Home of Cohasset Punch”


All photos courtesy of John Ladner III On March 29, 1986, Chicago lost two local legends, though one has experienced a bit of a comeback thanks to the recently impeached “B-Rod.” The fateful day in question saw the destruction of an old, two-story building to make way for a new Loop high rise, replacing the home to both a Prohibition-era saloon and the exclusive purveyor of one of Chicago’s most beloved and intriguing cocktails, Cohasset Punch.

“How is it that a drink named after the town of Cohasset, Mass., came to be the definitive Chicago cocktail? Victorian-era actor William H. Crane was the Lon Chaney of his day — a master of transforming his features with greasepaint and putty. He was also one of the most successful actors of the time, making it possible for him to throw fashionable parties at his summer house in Cohasset. Having played long runs in Chicago’s Hooley Theatre and the opera house, Crane had plenty of opportunity to acquaint himself with the town’s better bartenders, one of whom he brought out to Cohasset to do the mixing at one of his parties. Gus Williams came up with an original drink of dark rum, sweet vermouth, lemon juice, orange bitters and the syrup from a can of peaches, that was the hit of the fête. And so, once back in Chicago, Williams put the punch he had created in Cohasset on the menu at his place, Williams & Newman, where it began its reign as the town’s most distinctive drink.”

– excerpt from Eric Felton’s Wall Street Journal article, “Drinking the Chicago Way” (December 20, 2008)

All photos courtesy of John Ladner III

“[Williams] opened a saloon at 73 W. Lake St. where he served free lunches, nickel beer and his creation, Cohasset Punch. When he died, Mrs. Louisa Newman, the wife of his partner, sold the saloon and secret recipe to John and Carl Ladner, who opened the current saloon.”

– Rick Kogan, Dr. Nightlife’s Chicago (1979)

That year was about 1916 and the name of the pub opened by Carl and Frank Ladner was… surprise, Ladner Brothers. Shortly thereafter, the Volstead Act forced a decade-long hiatus for both saloon and cocktail until the 18th Amendment was repealed. In 1934, Ladner Brothers was re-opened by John J. Ladner, son of Carl, and used this opportunity to usher in the return of his elders’ acquisition, with anew sign commemorating the “Home of Cohasset Punch” spelled out in red neon sign, alongside a lighthouse. Cohasset Punch was served both at the bar and in bottles for later enjoyment. John Ladner’s place also featured singing canaries behind the bar (until they were killed in a small fire), food including lake perch, and a pennant for every baseball team in the league. Also available for sale: a can of dehydrated water with the label: “Empty contents into a gallon of water. Stir until dissolved.”

“The walls are posted with pictures of football players, the atmosphere is warm and fresh and the waitresses call you ‘honey’… The current owner, Ton Ohman, owns the recipe and he isn’t about to share it. It is bottled by a liquor company on S. Kedzie and though it is available at some stores, here is the only sure source.”

– Rick Kogan, Dr. Nightlife’s Chicago (1979)

After 43 years, Ladner sold his place and retired in 1975. The saloon continued operating, catering to brokers, traders, sportsmen, and businessmen, until the building was razed in 1986. John Ladner passed away in December of the same year. Today, John Ladner III, the great-grandson of Carl Ladner and grandson of John J. Ladner, hosts many photos of Ladner Brothers, Cohasset Punch glassware, and other mementoes of Ladner Brothers in his Flickr photostream.

“The last saloon in Chicago that still boasts a St. Louis Browns pennant on its wall is the historic place at Madison and Wells. Ladner’s, home of the storied Cohasset Punch, used to have its walls littered with gonfalons of every baseball club in the major leagues. Today, strangely, the only survivor is that of the club which played its most recent game in the American League in 1953.”

– excerpt from Will Leonard’s Chicago Tribune article, “There’s nothing like a visit with some old friends” (April 6, 1975)

Like the Southside Cocktail and Jeppson’s Malört, the beverage known as Cohasset Punch was a long-time Chicago favorite that was once again in danger of receded into the mists of local lore… that is until the impeachment of our former governor, Rod “B-Rod” Blagojevich. As state politicians were ratcheting up their impeachment rhetoric at the end of 2008, a series of drinks were served in local groggeries to celebrate the spectacle. As reported by Eric Felton in the Wall Street Journal, there was the “Impeach Effen Blago Cocktail” (Effen Vodka and lemonade) and Nacional 27’s “ImPeach-tini.” Some then turned their thoughts to Cohasset Punch: Chicago’s most popular cocktail since the Mickey Finn. This gives us a good excuse to remember this notable concoction and Ladner Brothers to boot. Here’s mud in your eye!

“And here was the scene, predictable to the last detail, hours, days, weeks
before — the light furniture in the popular Swedish style, the brown carpet, the Chagall and Gris prints, the vines trailing from the mantelpiece, the bowl of Cohasset punch.”

– excerpt from Saul Bellow’s novel, The Dangling Man (1944)

Cohasset Punch Recipe:

  • 1.5 ounces of dark or New England rum
  • 1 once of vermouth (sweet or dry)
  • Half a lemon
  • 1-2 dash orange bitters
  • One Del Monte canned peach half
  1. Place the canned peach in a flat champagne glass and fill half full with shaved ice.
  2. Pour in rum, vermouth, lemon juice, and bitters, stir.
  3. Pour in a half ounce of syrup from the can of peaches.

All photos courtesy of John Ladner III