In the mid-'90s, movies like "Swingers" introduced a new generation to the allure of sophisticated mixology. So what ever happened to the Cocktail Nation?
Lately the movement has been hijacked by trendy modified martinis that, aside from the glass they're served in, have little in common with the classic cocktails they ape. (Admit it: "Chocolatinis" lack a certain nostalgic cachet.) Why not get back to basics and catch a buzz the way your parents or even your grandparents did with our favorite oldie-but-goodie cocktails.
Consider the Grasshopper a Shamrock Shake for adults. It's a minty mixture of green Creme de Menthe, light Creme de Cacao and light cream shaken with plenty of ice--no blender needed. In the '70s, foxy disco ladies slurped down these pale emerald delights like soda. We found that the colorful Green Mill, a bar that pre-dates Saturday Night Fever by nearly 70 years, is the still perfect place to enjoy one. Not only did they have the requisite liquor in stock, the bartender didn't flinch when we ordered one.
Harvey Wallbanger ($6.50)
Once a classic in the pantheon of American cocktails that peaked in the late '60s and early '70s, today the Harvey Wallbanger is not always easy to find. That's because many bars don't stock Galliano, the sweet, golden, anise-flavored liqueur that turns an ordinary screwdriver into something that sounds like a character from a Rock Hudson-Doris Day movie. The 1940s-style lounge at Club Lucky is more famous for its martini menu, but you can still get acquainted with Mr. Wallbanger here.
Wicker Park's Holiday Club tossed its hipster drink list after the whole "swing thing" died down. But Gimlets are still so money, baby. A '50s favorite, a Gimlet mixes one part lime juice with and two parts gin (or vodka, if you're so inclined). Though Holiday Club doesn't use the optional powdered sugar, we think Frank would still approve.
Old Fashioned and Rusty Nail ($7 each)
One's delightfully fruity; the other's a tough guy with a soft heart. Sound like a new fall sitcom? No, they're just two of our favorite retro cocktails, the Old Fashioned and the Rusty Nail. The former is made with bourbon, sugar, bitters, lemon, orange and a maraschino cherry (the fruit and sugar make it easy to swallow). The Rusty Nail, as you might have guessed by the name, can taste a bit harsh to newcomers with its mixture of scotch and Drambuie, a Scotch-based liqueur sweetened with honey and herbs. But after a couple of sips, you'll find the Drambuie and lemon garnish provide a smooth finish. The neo-retro Tiny Lounge provides the right atmosphere to enjoy these two timeless treasures.
You might say the classically smooth combo of sweet vermouth and blended whiskey garnished with a cherry has never really gone out of style. But then again, the same can be said for disco. Why not enjoy both at Calo, a family-style Italian joint in Andersonville that offers an old-school evening of dinner and dancing featuring the musical stylings of Amy and the Mix, who belt out funky favorites. After dinner, neighborhood types--old, young, gay, straight--get under Calo's tiny disco ball and get down like they're at Studio 54.
Chris LaMorte is a metromix special contributor.