Food & Drink » Drinking, Nightlife & Parties

Celebrate Repeal Day with our bottled history of American cocktails

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Time, it's been said, is a flat circle – like a coaster, perfect for setting a stiff drink on. First consisting of just the bare necessities (alcohol, sugar, water and bitters), the American cocktail has taken many forms over many years. Despite decades of twists and turns, our thirst for cocktails of every era and flavor has only deepened. Walk through the ages with us and raise a glass from the past – or today – to celebrate the glory of legal alcoholic beverages.

"PRE"-HIBITION (1850 to 1919)


Tonight's special: The Sazerac

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The Sazerac was initially served as a medicinal toddy in Antoine Amédée Peychaud's renowned New Orleans dispensary, but world-famous bartender Harry Craddock tweaked Peychaud's recipe to create one of America's first cocktails. The drink's Sazerac-branded French cognac was swapped for rye whisky by the 1870s after phylloxera decimated French vineyards. Any number of liqueurs were subbed in for absinthe after a nationwide ban in 1912, but that distinctive ingredient returned to American bars – and Sazeracs – in 2007.

Recipe:

1 sugar lump

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

1 glass rye whiskey

1 dash absinthe

1 squeezed lemon peel, for garnish

Dress code: Frock coats, waistcoats and cravats for misters; corsets and full skirts for madams

PROHIBITION (1920 to 1933)

Tonight's special: the Tom Collins

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Whiskey's at a premium (see: goddamned illegal) thanks to 1919's fun-sucking Volstead Act. Enter the Tom Collins, which, like other gin-based cocktails, became the drink du jour for the flappers and dapper gents of the Roaring '20s. Proto-mixologist Jerry Thomas may have concocted his famous drink in 1876, but the Tom Collins' heavy pour of lemon juice and sugar was perfect for drowning out the flavor of Prohibition's most notorious nuisance: putrid bathtub gin.

Recipe:

3 parts Old Tom gin

2 parts freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 part sugar syrup

4 parts carbonated water to taste

Dress code: Straw boaters and tennis sweaters or trilbies and pinstriped suits for fellas; cloches, straight dresses and rolled stockings for dames

"POST"-HIBITION AND THE MAD MEN (1933 to 1960)

Tonight's special: the Martini

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Although pioneered (again) by Jerry Thomas and popularized by others from the 1920s on, the Martini staked its place in American cocktail culture in Madison Avenue's boardrooms and bars, filled with grim American men back from World War II who counted on a belt or three to get through the day. And that's a gin Martini, if you please – vodka was still spiritus non grata in the '50s, as was its Russian birthplace. Just like the era's toxic beauty standards and gridlocked gender politics, the cold-cock punch of the classic Martini has stood the test of time.

Recipe:

6 parts gin

1 part dry vermouth

Dress code:

Tightly fitted gray flannel suits for gentlemen; tightly tailored suits with pencil skirts for ladies – the less comfortable the better.

TIKI TAKEOVER (Late 1950s to mid-1960s)

Tonight's special: the Mai Tai

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Nothing pairs with ocean breezes, Bahama button-ups and the looming mushroom cloud of thermonuclear war like restaurateur Donn Beach's most famous tiki concoction, the Mai Tai. Beach opened his – and our – first tiki bar, the eponymous Don the Beachcomber, in 1933, but in the late '50s and early '60s, as American society chafed at those constrictive suits and ran away to the beach to surf with Frankie and Annette, Beach's tropical rum-based drinks helped break gin and whiskey's stranglehold on mixology, at least for a little while.

Recipe:

1 ounce gold rum

1 1/2 ounces Myers's Plantation rum

1 ounce grapefruit juice

3/4 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce Cointreau

1/4 ounce falernum

6 drops Pernod or Herbsaint

Dash of angostura bitters

Dress code: Swim trunks and flattops for surfer guys, flower-print sarongs and proto-bikinis for hula girls

T.G.I. Friday's and Singles Bars (1970s)

Tonight's special: the Harvey Wallbanger

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Hello, vodka! The sad jugs of Gallo wine so popular in the early '70s gave way to sweet, juicy cocktails later in the decade, and none is more emblematic than the Harvey Wallbanger. Similarly, the fern bars where singles culture first took root (heh) were overtaken by discos and swank drinkers like Maxwell's Plum and T.G.I. Friday's. Taken for granted today as the de facto night out destination for wolf packs and bachelorette parties, believe it or not, T.G.I. Friday's changed where and how young Americans drink. To this day, Friday's bartending training course remains the service industry's gold standard.

Recipe:

3 parts vodka

1 part Galliano

6 parts orange juice

Dress code: YOU get bell-bottoms! And YOU get bell-bottoms! Every! Body! Gets! Bell-bottoms!

CARRIE BRADSHAW'S AMERICA (1990s to MID-2000s)

Tonight's special: the Cosmopolitan

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For one pink, shining moment, the Cosmo was as ubiquitous as flip phones, frosted highlights and HBO's Sex and the City. Sloshing over the sides of a comically oversized Martini glass, it was the perfect cocktail for the 1990s' New American Optimism: syrupy-sweet, deceptively smooth and not at all indicative of the hangover to come. Cocktail aficionados might deride the Cosmo as one-dimensional, but there's no denying the drink's zeitgeist-i-ness and its place in pop – and cocktail – culture.

Recipe:

1 1/2 ounce vodka

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce triple sec

1 ounce cranberry juice

Dress code: Brass-button blazers and popped collars for dudes; neon crop tops, cuffed jeans and Manolo Blahnik Mary Janes for gals

THE RENAIS-AUGHTS (2000s to present)

Tonight's special: the Corpse Reviver No. 2

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What's old – like, 1870s old – is new again, thanks to the late 2000s' craft cocktail renaissance. Craft cocktail bars like Milk & Honey, Death & Co., PDT and Employees Only revered the recipes of Harry Craddock and Jerry Thomas, giving them new life. Craddock gets a second mention in this article with his Corpse Reviver No. 2, a gin-based cocktail served for its "medicinal" properties (that is, as a hangover cure ... yeah, you're the corpse). After a couple decades' exile, rye whiskey and gin stormed back into America's liquor cabinets as mixologists reinvented and endlessly tweaked American classics to new levels of perfection. Below, David "Death & Co." Kaplan's version of Craddock's classic Corpse Reviver.

Recipe:

3/4 ounce Beefeater London dry gin

3/4 ounce Cointreau

3/4 ounce Lillet Blanc

2 dashes Vieux Pontarlier absinthe

3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

Shaken with ice, strained into a coupe, no garnish.

Dress code: Cardigans and skinny jeans, Ray-Bans and prints, and a waxed mustache and suspenders for your bartender

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