I can trace my love of cocktails back to my fascination with old movies. I grew up watching black and white films from the 30s and 40s, particularly crime dramas and detective stories, the way kids today tune into Nickelodeon. I couldn’t get enough of that world of chisel-jawed, fedora wearing tough guys and the whipsmart, tough-talking dames. The Thin Man, Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity, Murder, My Sweet and the like made a huge impression. And throughout those films, the characters I loved all enjoyed a drink or two…or six.
These liquid indulgences all seemed so glamorous. There were champagne cocktails and whiskey ordered neat, and martinis and gimlets–each seemed way more exotic than the rum and cokes, white wines and screwdrivers that I’d seen my parents and their friends sip as I peeped from the staircase landing when I spied at the parties and get-togethers my dad loved to throw at our house.
As I got older and reached the age when I could legally imbibe, I realized that those classic cocktails as seen in classic films seemed way more adult than the Kamikaze, Sex on the Beach, Electric Lemonade and Long Island Iced Tea—drinks that were popular then with the post college crowd. Far from being super trendy, these Turner Classic Movie-ready concoctions have stood the test of time and taste. Whenever I’ve order one out, I invariably get a little head nod from the bartender in approval and acknowledgment of a spirits fellow traveler. That may not seem like much, but sometimes that is all it takes to upgrade your night out.
Over the next few weeks, The LUSHiouslife will be highlighting some of my favorite classics. We’ll start with three of my go-tos.
This cocktail is said to have been invented in Florence, Italy in 1919. The recipe is easy to remember and thus easy to explain to any clueless bartender who may seem perplexed when you order it. Although it’s most often associated with warmer weather—and there are negroni celebrations and events held in the spring, I find it the perfect pre-meal drink any time of the year. It offers the perfect balance between bitter and sweet and packs quite the boozy kick. Like most things Italian, it’s stylish, sleek and eye-catching.
1 part Campari
1 part gin
1 part sweet red vermouth
orange peel for garnish
Build the drink in a glass (rocks or cocktail/martini glass) filled with ice. Stir. Garnish with orange peel.
The cocktail name-checked in Raymond Chandler’s celebrated Phillip Marlowe detective story, The Long Goodbye. The gimlet was originally created for sailors as a way to prevent scurvy—the disease is the result of a deficiency in Vitamin C and in the 19th century British sailors were issued a daily allowance of limes to up their intake of the nutrient (hence the term Limey for Brits). The original recipe calls for the use of Rose’s Lime rather than fresh lime juice, but like Tammy and Marvin said, Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby—stick with fresh-squeezed.
2 ½ oz gin
½ oz lime juice
½ oz simple syrup
lime wedge for garnish
Add ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wedge.
Admittedly, this cocktail doesn’t have the long history of the others. In fact, it was created by cocktail legend Audrey Saunders at her in the early 2000s and was named one of the 25 most influential cocktails of the past century by Imbibe magazine and rightly celebrated by no lesser body than the James Beard Foundation. It’s the signature drink at Saunders’ Pegu Club bar in New York City, but has become so beloved that you’ll find it or a variation of it on the menus of bars all over the world. It’s dead easy to make and an absolute dream to sip. Think of it as a Modern Classic.
10 mint leaves
1 oz simple syrup
¾ oz lime juice
1 ½ oz gin
2 oz ginger beer (Saunders uses housemade ginger beer but you can use store-bought. I prefer Fever-Tree or Q Drinks ginger beer)
mint sprig for garnish
Muddle mint leaves, simple syrup and lime juice in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add gin and fill with ice. Shake vigorously, then strain into an ice-filled cocktail glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a sprig of mint.