Throwing Back Retro Cocktails

Allegory The Missing Hands Mimic the Moon Closed Loop at Sable Kitchen and Bar
Allegory, The Missing Hands, Mimic the Moon and Closed Loop at Sable Kitchen & Bar

The 1960s and 1970s have been called “the Dark Age of Mixology,” when canned juices, blended cocktails and mixes took over back bars in watering holes adorned with ferns and cheesy music. Today, bartenders are taking a “do over”, reviving some of these retro, oft-maligned sips. Modern versions are vast improvements on the kitschy counterparts mixed with little regard to ingredients or technique, though. High-quality spirits and mixers, and an attention to detail, make for libations that are definitely worth another glance.

At Pot, a classic Korean hotel-inspired lobby bar located in Los Angeles’ Line Hotel, nostalgia was the impetus for reviving forgotten drinks. “Roy Choi, one of our owners, wanted to bring back drinks he remembered growing up, but wanted the bar to execute them in a more developed way, with better ingredients and better liquors,” explains Joey Mar, head bartender and supervisor for POT and Commissary. Rather than using ginger syrup for their Penicillin cocktail, staff uses fresh ginger juice, which lends a more overt spiciness; the Fuzzy Navel contains freshly squeezed orange juice in lieu of that from concentrate or a carton; and the Long Island Iced tea has fresh pieces of aloe vera in the bottom of the glass. Pot offers eight retro drinks, all priced at $11.

Fuzzy Navel and Long Island Iced Tea at Pot photo credit Carrie Shaltz
Fuzzy Navel and Long Island Iced Tea at Pot. Photo credit Carrie Shaltz.

Mar isn’t sure cocktails from the 1960s and 1970s will sweep the nation, but admits it’s fun to toy with names and tweak (read: elevate) the original recipes. “I do however think there may be a trend of trying new bold techniques and flavor profiles which will lead to a new era of cocktails,” he predicts. “Now that more and more bartenders are being educated on new quality products, cocktail history, spirit distillation, how to balance cocktails, and taking a more culinary approach to making cocktails, I think the boundaries will start to be pushed.”

In the 1940s and 1950s, the Stinger, a refreshing combination of equal parts Cognac and white crème de menthe, was considered the nightcap cocktail. At Sable Kitchen & Bar, a modern American gastro-lounge in Chicago, Illinois, head bartender Mike Ryan revived the classic duo cocktail with four new riffs on the menu.  “The Stinger is a great digestive cocktail, bracing and bold,” he muses. “It uses a ridiculous amount of crème de menthe, and really shouldn’t work, but the acidity of the cognac and the overall intensity of the cocktail bring it all together.”

Like the original, his four variations have few ingredients (two or three); he describes them as “bold, intense, and unexpected, but well worth the effort.” Closed Loop combines equal parts local Rhine Hall Apple Brandy and Bigallet Viriana China-China Liqueur; Mimic the Moon mixes strawberry-infused Cana Brava Rum with Ancho Reyes Chili Licor; The Missing Hands stirs St. George Terroir Gin with Fernet Branca Menta and Caffe Moka; and Allegory shakes Plymouth Gin with Carpano Bianco Vermouth and Kalani Coconut Liqueur; all Stinger riffs are $14.

“Much like the original Stinger, these are intended as standalone cocktails, specifically designed for after-dinner drinking,” notes Ryan. “The flavors are intense, and the sweetness is balanced by the dryness of the base spirit, but in general they aren’t cocktails that are designed for pairing.”

As a child, Jon Arroyo remembers watching a bartender make a Bahama Mama and thinking to himself, “When I’m twenty-one, I’ll order one.” When the chief mixologist for the Washington, D.C.-based Founding Farmers Restaurant Group toured Martinique’s Rhum Clément Distillery a few years ago and tasted their coconut liqueur, he knew he found the right ingredient for his version. His Bahama Mama ($14) combines Rhum Clément Mahina Coco with Mount Gay Black Rum, lemon juice and cold-pressed pineapple juice, topped with a float of over proof rum. “No grenadine avoids sweetness, and the cold-pressed pineapple juice makes the drink completely different than using a can of Dole.”

Chief’s Bahama Mama
Courtesy of Jon Arroyo, Founding Farmers Restaurant Group, Washington, D.C.

1 oz. Mount Gay Black Rum
1 oz. lemon juice
2 oz. fresh pineapple juice
1 oz. Rhum Clément Mahina Coco
Over proof rum, as a floater
Mint sprig, pineapple chunks and umbrella, for garnish

Place all ingredients except over proof rum and garnish into a Hurricane glass and mix with a swizzle stick. Top with a floater of over proof rum, and garnish with a mint sprig, pineapple chunks, and an umbrella.

Bahama Mama Founding Farmers Restaurant Group

His Harvey Spector ($12), a take on the Harvey Wallbanger, stirs Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Becherovka with Galliano and a healthy dose of orange bitters in a glass rinsed with orange flower—the latter two replace the orange juice in the original recipe, rendering a cleaner finish and texture. Arroyo also always thought the Tequila Sunrise ($12) was a cool cocktail, so he shakes equal parts Tequila and Mezcal with orange juice, mole bitters and house made grenadine, for a decidedly multi-dimensional libation.

Harvey Spector
Courtesy of Jon Arroyo, Founding Farmers Restaurant Group, Washington, D.C.

Orange flower water, for rinse
1 ½ oz. American Harvest Vodka
Bar spoon Becherovka
1 oz. Galliano
1 oz. orange bitters
Orange peel, for garnish

Rinse coupe glass with orange flower water, and pour out excess. Place other ingredients except garnish in a mixing glass, add ice and stir. Strain it into the prepared glass, and garnish with an orange peel.

Harvey Spector Founding Farmers Restaurant Group

The Lava Flow is typically a vacation drink—frozen and refreshing, but forgettable. “Rarely will you see it unless you are at the beach, and then it will be sweet and from a mix,” he says. Arroyo’s from-scratch recipe infused puréed strawberries with Appleton Rum, and blends banana and pineapple with house made whipped cream. The banana mixture is poured into the glass first, with the strawberry concoction subsequently stirred in to resemble the namesake lava.

Arroyo isn’t sure about the staying power of these retro drinks, but is more certain of another trend. “It’s more about a trend of simplicity and quality,” he declares. “If you stand behind it, the bartenders will believe in it, and it will resonate with your guests.”

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