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The long and cool of it

It is a scorchingly hot day in Las Vegas as I retreat inside Desert Passage, a faux-casbah mall inside the Aladdin resort. Hot and sticky, I agree to let a pedicab driver whisk me past life-size stone elephants and a sultan's palace decorated with iridescent mosaic tile in my search for a quenching cocktail on this steamy summer afternoon. My driver assures me he knows just the place. Moments later, we arrive at a daiquiri bar whose main feature is a wall of Slurpee machines turning out an array of alcoholic snow cones offered in a ghastly lineup of flavors: hurricane, margarita, bellini, piña colada and so forth.

My pedicab driver pedals off, quite pleased with himself. I, however, am appalled. I watch as two women in shorts and sarong-style tops order sickly sweet mango "daiquiris" in 36-ounce glasses that look like chem class beakers. Papa, I think to myself, would turn over in his grave.

Papa, of course, is Ernest Hemingway, the dyspeptic novelist who loved nothing more than to while away an afternoon at the Floridita bar in old Havana, relishing the daiquiris made with plantation lemons, cane sugar, rum and shaved ice. Not too much sugar, Hemingway would instruct the old bartender, Constante. "It should have a sour finish — like life."

"Si, Papa. Claro."

Discouraged, I meander through the Vegas casbah to Commander's Palace, a New Orleans eatery and bar that, like a lot of well-known regional restaurants, now has an outpost here. Trying to decide what to have, I repeat the sorry story of the frozen daiquiri to the head bartender, Fritz Lipari.

"I know exactly what you mean," he says. "So many great classic cocktails have been bastardized because bartenders think people want sweet drinks with a lot of color."

Then he makes a suggestion. "You ever heard of a Pimm's Cup? It's very popular in England and New Orleans. But I make one that's even better."

The great thing about a Pimm's Cup, Lipari tells me as he pulls a chilled Collins glass from his back bar, is that it's light and refreshing. "It's the perfect drink on a hot summer afternoon because it's very low octane — you can drink them all day."

Thanks to Lipari and other great bartenders, a number of classic summer cocktails like Pimm's Cup, the daiquiri (which was JFK's favorite), the gin fizz and the Americano are making a comeback — or deserve to be. When they were first introduced, long before supermarket mixes, these cocktails were made with the finest liquors blended with the best fresh ingredients, often at the toniest restaurants and hotels. Now, bartenders are not only bringing back the simple, pure ingredients of the originals, but discreetly updating recipes.

Lipari is a bit of a mixology historian who has worked in some of the best bars in Manhattan and owned his own restaurants in the Caribbean. As he makes my drink, he gives me background on 150-year-old Pimm's No. 1, a spice- and herb-infused spirit that when diluted with soda or other mixers becomes Pimm's Cup. "In England, they make it with what the Brits call lemonade but we call 7-Up."

But Lipari pours a light shot of Pimm's over ice, adds homemade lemon sour mix instead of 7-Up ("You've got to make your own and make it fresh," he insists) and tops it with Champagne. For a garnish he uses a thin slice of cucumber and "whatever fresh fruit I have on hand — maybe a raspberry or a slice of peach or even apple."

For mine he tosses in a blackberry. The result is extraordinary. The drink is spicy, tart and a beautiful pale pink. The acidity and sweetness of the homemade lemon sour mix balance wonderfully with the clean, herbal flavor of the Pimm's. And because Pimm's is a relatively low 50 proof (compared with the 80 proof or higher of most other spirits), it has a bracing rather than dulling effect on my senses.

Tony Abou-Ganim, former bar manager at the Bellagio, loves introducing people to such old-fashioned favorites as the Americano, a blend of sweet vermouth and Campari created at the beginning of the last century by an Italian bartender who wanted to emulate the American way of drinking cocktails, and the sidecar, a classic "brown" cocktail said to have originated in Paris during World War I.

"They're great drinks that can be made better by using fresh juices and the best spirits," says Abou-Ganim, which means pouring at least a VS or VSOP Cognac when making a sidecar.

Updating either the spirit or the mixer can put a whole new spin on a drink. Try using today's aromatic gins, such as Junipero or Hendrick's, in a simple standard like the gin fizz. Or experiment with modern mixers. Citrus-flavored sparkling waters give new life to old favorites like the gin-based Tom Collins, a drink whose virtues have been virtually unknown in this country since the mass-marketing of that icky Tom Collins mix. The Tom Collins, a drink created in London in the early 1800s, is a summer favorite of Dale DeGroff, former bartender for New York's Rainbow Room.

For a knockout gin and tonic, DeGroff suggests a floral gin like Bombay Sapphire or Van Gogh — either of these will complement the tonic's tartness.

Another classic invented by the Italians, the Negroni, is served straight up in a martini glass in the winter. In Italy during the summer, it's often served on the rocks in a highball glass. There have been variations through the years, including substituting dry vermouth for sweet or Prosecco for the gin, so purists won't argue with our version, inspired by Alex Van Amburg, bartender at Traxx Bar at Union Station (just the place, with its period atmosphere, to talk classic cocktails). Van Amburg suggested substituting red Dubonnet for the vermouth.

Which brings us to the daiquiri, that fine tropical refresher I saw so debased in Las Vegas. Give it back its dignity by returning it to its Cuban roots and mixing together fresh lemon and lime juices, sugar and a nice, light rum.

Papa will rest more easily.

*

Pimm's Cup

Total time: 2 minutes

Servings: 1

Note: From Fritz Lipari at Commander's Palace, Las Vegas

1 ounce Pimm's No. 1

4 to 5 ounces homemade lemon sour mix

1 ounce Champagne

1 English cucumber slice

1 raspberry

1. Fill a 12-ounce Collins glass with ice, add the Pimm's and stir. Add the lemon sour mix, stir. Add the Champagne to top off. Garnish with a very thin slice of English cucumber and a fresh raspberry.


Each serving: 218 calories; 0 protein; 36 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 3 mg. sodium. *

Negroni

Total time: 1 minute

Servings: 1

1 1/4ounces quality gin

1/2ounce Campari

1/2 ounce red Dubonnet

2 slices kumquat

1. Fill a 6-ounce old-fashioned (rocks) glass with ice. Add the gin, Campari and Dubonnet and stir. Garnish with 2 kumquat slices on a cocktail pick.


Each serving: 153 calories; 0 protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 0 mg. cholesterol; 3 mg. sodium. *

Gin and tonic

Total time: 1 minute

Servings: 1

Note: Be sure to use just-opened tonic. The effervescence makes the drink.

1 1/4ounces chilled floral gin (like Bombay Sapphire or Van Gogh)

5 ounces tonic

2 lime wedges

1. Fill a 16-ounce highball glass with ice cubes. Add the gin and tonic and stir. Garnish with lime wedges.


Each serving: 132 calories; 0 protein; 13 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 6 mg. sodium. *

Tom Collins

Total time: 1 minute

Servings: 1

1 1/4ounces dry gin (like Beefeater or Citadelle)

4 to 5 ounces homemade lemon sour mix

2 ounces lime or lemon-

flavored sparkling water

2 lemon slices

1. Fill a Collins glass with ice and add the gin and the lemon sour mix and stir. Top off with the sparkling water; add the lemon slices and stir.


Each serving: 210 calories; 1 gram protein; 36 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 2 mg. sodium. *

Sidecar

Total time: 1 minute

Servings: 1

1 1/4ounces VS or VSOP Cognac

1/2ounce Cointreau or Grand Marnier

1 ounce homemade lemon sour mix

1 cinnamon stick

1 maraschino cherry

1. Fill an 11-ounce sugar-frosted old-fashioned (rocks) glass with crushed ice and add the Cognac, Cointreau and lemon sour mix. Stir. Garnish with the cinnamon stick and cherry.


Each serving: 156 calories; 0 protein; 13 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 2 mg. sodium. *

Gin fizz

Total time: 2 minutes

Servings: 1

1 1/4ounces aromatic gin (like Junipero or Citadelle)

1/2ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar

4 ounces club soda

1 orange wedge

1 maraschino cherry

1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the gin, lemon juice and sugar. Shake well and strain into a 10-ounce old-fashioned (rocks) glass filled with ice.


2. Top with club soda to add the fizz. Garnish with wedge of orange and a maraschino cherry.


Each serving: 92 calories; 0 protein; 3 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 25 mg. sodium. *

Americano

Total time: 1 minute

Servings: 1

3/4ounce Bacardi Limón rum

3/4ounce sweet vermouth

4 ounces citrus-flavored sparkling water

1 slice orange

1. Fill a 10-ounce highball glass with ice and add the rum and vermouth. Stir. Add the sparkling water and stir. Garnish with the orange slice.


Each serving: 83 calories; 0 protein; 3 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 2 mg. sodium. *

Daiquiri

Total time: 2 minutes

Servings: 1

1 1/2 ounces light rum

3 to 4 ounces homemade lemon sour mix

1 twist lime

1 maraschino cherry

1. Fill a cocktail shaker with crushed ice. Add the rum and lemon sour mix. Shake well. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with the lime twist and a maraschino cherry.


Each serving: 200 calories; 0 protein; 29 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 2 mg. sodium. *

Lemon sour mix

Total time: 15 minutes, plus cooling time

Servings: Makes 2 1/2 cups

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

6 lemons

6 limes

1. Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bringing it to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

2. While the syrup cools, squeeze the lemons and limes, straining the pulp and seeds. Add the juices to the cooled syrup. Refrigerate to store.


Each ounce: 26 calories; 0 protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 0 sodium.

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