Nothing says happy holidays like a Tom & Jerry. Just ask any customer at The Place, located at 229 Lexington Ave.
The restaurant, which is newly remodeled yet cozy and comfortable, is celebrating 75 years in business as The Place this year. But this time of year, the celebrations focus on a holiday tradition – the Tom & Jerry.
Jay McCarthy, co-owner of The Place with Betty Brinkworth, estimates the classic drink dates back to the 1800s and he says it’s been served at The Place since at least 1941.
One thing is for certain: The famous holiday cocktail has been warming spirits for generations and if McCarthy has his way, that’s one thing that will never change.
Q: First off, what’s in a Tom & Jerry?
A: Brandy and white rum, topped with Tom & Jerry batter, which is almost like cake mix. The batter is egg white and egg yolk blended separately and then blended back together like a meringue.
For every 12 eggs, there’s a lot of sugar. Our description is a ton of sugar, along with nutmeg and a pinch of salt. You whip the egg whites until you get the peaks. That’s when you can add the egg yolk into it. You add hot water. Fresh nutmeg goes on top (of the batter) and you stir and serve.
Q: It sounds like there is a technique or a trade secret to it?
A: That’s the biggest technique - the batter is everything. The fresher, the better. That’s what we do. I don’t know if there’s a trade secret, but it’s trial and error.
Q: When is Tom & Jerry season?
A: We started serving the Monday before Thanksgiving this year. Sometime in January we’ll be finished. That’s the Tom & Jerry window. Since it’s our first year (under new ownership) we might go longer.
Q: How many do you serve in a week?
A: We serve hundreds every week.
Q: Are they served mainly at the bar or tables too?
A: Everywhere! They drink them everywhere they can have them. It’s been busy lately. Black Friday is the big day. That whole first weekend is mobbed. One day last week, of all the drinks sold, the Tom & Jerry was ¾ of all drinks sold.
Q: You even serve the Tom & Jerry in a special mug?
A: Each year, it is served in a commemorative mug. This year, it’s a 75th anniversary mug.
Q: And the weather plays a role?
A: People tell me they want to wait for the right temperature, until it’s cold out, or just snowy enough. There’s all sorts of traditions that people have in how they drink their Tom & Jerry.
Q: Do customers comment that they like yours best?
A: You get it all the time. Ninety-nine percent of the time people say The Place is the best they’ve ever had. We have it down. They come in droves to The Place. It’s multi-generational. And they’ll see how many can they have in a week or over the course of time. There’s a record out there of 15 Tom & Jerrys in a sitting. It’s constant.
It seems to be a real staple in the city to come to The Place – it’s the place for Tom & Jerrys over the holidays. Another famous place is Schwabl’s in the burbs. For the city, it’s The Place.
Q: How do you feel about carrying on the tradition?
A: I think it’s a great honor. It’s a great honor to be in the building with all of the history and the neighborhood and all the stories of generations of people who have come through the doors and have made it their second home.
It’s been a real honor to be that next proprietor. There haven’t been many. We’re the third proprietor as The Place, but the building has been operating since the late 1870s. It was busted in the 20s for bootleg liquor. It was originally a farmhouse and bed and breakfast outside the Village of Buffalo. So it’s kind of an honor to carry the business forward and renovate it the way we have to bring back the classic old Buffalo – that’s what we designed the space to be.
You walk into our history. It’s like the who’s who or Old Homes Day every time you’re here. People from all over have that connection.