This drink is often called a waldorf-astoria cocktail and certainly was named after the famed hotel. The hotel itself was extremely elegant and fashionable. Here is an early printing of the Waldorf Hotel:
Skeleton construction in buildings: With numerous practical … – Page 166 by William Harvey Birkmire in 1893
“HOTEL WALDORF. The Hotel Waldorf, which Henry J. Hardenbergh, architect, has planned and built for William Waldorf Astor, situated at the corner of Thirty-third Street and Fifth Avenue, New York, covers a plot of ground two hundred”
Many people believe that Waldorf and Astoria were two separate proprietors of the hotel, but this is not true, the hotel was named after William Waldorf Astor, hence Waldorf Astoria. The hotel was known for it’s lavish cocktail parties and more closely associated with it’s excellent food rather than drink prior to the addition of it’s cocktail lounge.
When the hotel open between 1887 – 1893 it did not contain a bar, soon thereafter a cocktail lounge was added, one of the most notable people associated with the Waldorf-astoria hotel was “Oscar”, who nobody seems to talk about. It is likely he was the first head chef and bartender at the Waldorf, he even published an early book full of recipes, that nobody seems to mention either, as seen here:
The cook book, by “Oscar” of the Waldorf by Oscar Tschirky in 1896
“In placing this work before my friends at The Waldorf and the public in general, it is with the feeling that I am giving them a book illustrative of the best methods of preparing food at the present day. The collection of recipes”
Oscar Tschirky made many great dishes and even a few cocktails at the waldorf prior to the 20th century and it is likely he created the drink itself. Although, he was most known for his dish the “waldorf salad” and the drink the “Oyster cocktail” which appears again and again as seen here:
Snap shots at cookery – Page 21 by Church of the Ascension (Buffalo, N.Y.) in 1899
“OYSTER COCKTAIL. One quart bluepoint oysters with juice, one half bottle Shrewsbury catchup, four teaspoonfuls horseradish, One jigger vodka, Stir well, and serve. Horseradish may be used on the side. ” Oscar,” of The Waldorf.”
This drink dates between 1893 – 1903 and contained at least as of then:
Stir these ingredients:
Absinthe (not a subsititute, absinthe was not illegal yet)
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.