From Hurricane to Tequila Sunrise, Learn the Fascinating History Behind Your Favorite Coastal Cocktails
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In the late 1950s, when Florida was still growing its reputation as a tourist destination and bikinis were illegal beach attire in Fort Lauderdale, the owners of Mai-Kai had a radical idea to draw traffic at the restaurant’s newly opened Molokai Bar. They would offer the biggest drink possible (with 9 ounces of booze), and develop an elaborate “mystery” ritual around ordering it—gongs were struck, a tiki bowl was lit aflame, and a sarong-wearing maiden came out to lei the imbibing party. Mai-Kai historian Tim Glazner admits that the Mystery Drink is “essentially a Trader Vic’s scorpion bowl,” but almost six decades (and several Tonight Show appearances) later, the drink still inspires a sense of wonder.
Made with pisco, pineapple gum syrup, and lemon juice
Tight-lipped 19th-century barman Duncan Nicol took the closely guarded recipe for Pisco Punch to his grave. Today, the Comstock Saloon suggests a mixture of pisco, lemon juice, and pineapple gum syrup. But when asked to divulge Comstock’s in-house version, the staff defer to the drink’s originator: It’s a secret.
Recipe: Pisco Punch
Made with dark rum, vodka, Curaçao, Angostura bitters, orgeat, and passion fruit juice
Created by Tiki pioneer Harry Yee in 1957 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort in Waikīkī, the drink’s titular “itch” is scratched with an excess of booze and a towering souvenir bamboo backscratcher.
Recipe: Tropical Itch
Portland Hunt + Alpine Club
Made with Allen’s coffee brandy, white rum, espresso, and simple syrup
At the heart of an Allen’s and Milk—Maine’s beloved highball—is Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy. At Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, owner Andrew Volk’s homage nixes the splash of milk and pairs the “Champagne of Maine” with white rum and a shot of local Tandem Coffee Roasters espresso.
Recipe: Espresso Martini
The Pastry War
Made with tequila, Persian lime juice, Key lime juice, and agave nectar
Houston cocktail mogul Bobby Heugel insists this twist on the classic Daisy drink was born south of the border. Whether frozen or on the rocks, he says the secret is a 50/50 blend of Persian lime juice and Key lime juice, a trick he learned while rifling through recipes from the original Ninfa’s on Navigation, one of Houston’s oldest Tex-Mex institutions.
Made with rye, manzanilla sherry, grenadine, lemon juice, and orange juice
After operating for 137 years as Locke-Ober, a triumph of Boston’s Gilded Age, the city’s third-oldest restaurant was recently transformed into Yvonne’s, a glitzy supper club. One piece of history remains: The Ward 8, a relative of the whiskey sour, which was invented at Locke-Ober in 1898.
Recipe: Ward 8
Made with rye, white rum, pineapple shrub, mole bitters, orange bitters, and lemon juice
What the mint julep is to the Kentucky Derby, the Black-eyed Susan is to the Preakness. But Baltimore’s preferred pony-racing drink is more open to interpretation: At Minnow, owner Jake Lefenfeld banishes bottom-shelf peach schnapps in favor of a house-made pineapple shrub.
Recipe: Black-Eyed Susan
Gin & Juice
Made with gin, seasonal juice, simple syrup, and lemon juice
At Commissary, chef Roy Choi elevates the cocktail kingdom's equivalent of a PBJ with a selection of fresh-pressed juices—melon, blackberry, beet—while also paying homage to its humble roots (by serving it in a plastic deli takeout container). Snoop Dogg would be proud.
Recipe: Gin & Juice
The Last Word
Made with gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and lime juice
In 2004, Seattle bartender Murray Stenson was researching old cocktail manuals when he came across a Prohibition-era drink conceived at the Detroit Athletic Club. He resurrected the forgotten sweet-sour elixir, which should be served straight up, giving it an unlikely second act.
Recipe: The Last Word
Cane & Table
Made with aged overproof dark rum, passion fruit syrup, and lemon juice
With whiskey supplies scarce in the 1940s, Pat O'Brien brainstormed a cocktail, served in a hurricane glass–shaped vessel, that capitalized on his excessive rum stock. Cane & Table improves upon the O'Brien blueprint with aged rum and none of the drink's traditionally saccharine elements (grenadine, multiple juices).
Made with fino sherry, salted lime oleo, cucumber juice, and soda
During D.C.'s steamy campaign season of 1883, lobbyist Joe Rickey found himself spending lots of quality time at Shoomaker's bar, where he took to a refreshing mix of rye, Apollinaris water, and lemon juice. Lime and gin soon replaced Rickey's preference for whiskey, reinventing the Mid-Atlantic's preferred summer salve.
Made with tequila, grenadine, and orange juice
Although invented in Tijuana, the cocktail became popular courtesy of The Rolling Stones. After visiting The Trident bar in Sausalito, Mick Jagger adopted the name (and made it the unofficial drink) for the band's famously debaucherous 1972 tour.
Recipe: Tequila Sunrise
Made with aged rum, Curaçao, orgeat, demerara simple syrup, and lime juice
Victor J. "Trader Vic" Bergeron created this tiki cocktail to showcase a 17-year-old Jamaican rum, not the bevy of syrups and juices that later came to define the drink. That's why at Smuggler's Cove—one of the world's great rum destinations—they strip away the drink's sugary shroud and return it to its roots.
Recipe: Mai Tai
Made with cognac, rye, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, Angostura bitters, and Peychaud's bitters
The French Quarter's Hotel Monteleone prides itself on its literary history (Truman Capote liked to say he was born there), but its true legacy might belong to the Vieux Carré, a drink so sacrosanct even modern trendsetters don't meddle with its original formulation.
Recipe: Vieux Carré
Thames Street Oyster House
Made with orange-flavored vodka, triple sec, and fresh orange juice
Baptized for its namesake action—wringing oranges in an industrial juice press—the Old Line State's signature blend of flavored vodka, triple sec, and fresh citrus has become a phenomenon in its home state. Though the drink was introduced only two decades ago in West Ocean City, Marylanders now identify hand-operated juicers as "crusher machines."
Recipe: Orange Crush
Pépé le Moko
Made with green crème de menthe, white crème de menthe, Fernet-Branca, vanilla ice cream, half-and-half, and sea salt
In response to faux speakeasies and overwrought mixology, playful 1980s quaffs like that Day-Glo-green oddity the Grasshopper have made a comeback. Conjured at Tujague's in New Orleans during the early 20th century, the drink is being approached with a fresh perspective today by bartenders like Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who complements the requisite crème de menthe with Fernet-Branca and sea salt.
Light Dragoon's Punch
Made with brandy, rum, peach brandy, black tea, sugar, lemon juice, and soda
Chef Sean Brock's commitment to preserving Southern heirloom ingredients and antebellum recipes doesn't stop at the food. He and Husk head bartender Rod Weaver unearthed this brandy-based punch from a 1792 tome at the Preservation Society of Charleston. Years later, it's still one of the most popular cocktails at Brock's tri-state cache of restaurants.
Recipe: Light Dragoon's Punch
Cole's French Dip
Made with gin, raspberry simple syrup, and lemon juice
The blush-tinged tipple that became the "it" drink of the "90s is also a great marketing success story. Tasked with building a cocktail around Absolut Citron vodka, South Beach bartender Cheryl Cook fused elements of a Lemon Drop and a Kamikaze, forging a sweet-sour combination that peaked with its appearance on Sex and the City.
Recipe: Cosmopolitan 1926
Death & Company
New York City
Made with rye, amaro, sweet vermouth, and maraschino liqueur
New York, and the whiskey-based Manhattan, were both at the forefront of the country's first mixed-drinks golden age. So it's only fitting that for the cocktail's current renaissance, a slice of another Big Apple borough would take center stage. Enzo Errico's Red Hook, a riff on the Manhattan, pairs rye with Punt e Mes vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and a touch of amaro.
Recipe: Red Hook
Orange Beach, Alabama
Made with white rum, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, cream of coconut, and vanilla extract
After visiting Saint Thomas in 1975, the owner of The Sandshaker in Pensacola, Florida, came back with a taste for this chocolatey cousin of the piña colada, now an obsession across the Flora-Bama line.