Today's hottest cocktails? Old standbys, with minor alterations.
In the 1970s, the Kamikaze was the new drink that young people knocked back in a shot, in one go. Ten years later, when Punk cocktails were in vogue, shooters such as the Brain Tumor were downed by twenty-somethings across the country. The new-millennium tidal wave, however, has changed what is trendy. It would be wrong to claim that younger drinkers are no longer tossing back shots of strange potions here and there, but, let's face it, many of today's trendy crowds are far more sophisticated than their parents were 20 and 30 years ago. What are they drinking? What the rest of us have been drinking—in some cases, since the forties—with a few minor changes. Mixologists across America are learning that young, hip bar-goers aren't so different from old dogs: It only takes a few tricks to teach them to love America's old-standby cocktails.
Gin, Now In?
Beverage consultant Audrey Saunders, one of Manhattan's most accomplished cocktail designers, recently developed the cocktail menu for The Tonic on West 18th Street in New York City. One of her ploys is to wean younger drinkers off vodka and onto gin. "There's not much to vodka, although I do use it, so I substitute some of the softer gins for vodka in some cocktail recipes—it has much more complexity and depth," says Saunders, who is known to her friends as the Libation Goddess.
One drink that Saunders has altered is the Moscow Mule, a 1940s drink that helped launch Smirnoff vodka. The Moscow Mule is a fairly simple drink—vodka and ginger beer, with a lime-wedge garnish—but Saunders has transformed it into a masterpiece. Her Gin-Gin Mule is made by muddling together fresh mint leaves and freshly squeezed lime juice, and then adding Tanqueray gin and some of Audrey's homemade ginger beer. Now that's a drink with some thought—and effort—behind it.
Younger folks are particularly enthralled with the Libation Goddess' creations. Saunders has her own ideas about why this is: "I think that it is…a rite of passage. The young adult finally [has] legal access to the forbidden fruit. The whole idea of becoming an adult [includes] alcohol easing the awkwardness of mixing with the opposite sex."
The Fresh and Fancy In-Crowd
If you're seeking a trendy young scene on the West Coast, you won't go wrong by hitting Luna Park, a hip joint in San Francisco's Mission District. The crowd there was described in The San Francisco Chronicle as a "mostly young crowd [that] has that 2000 look: men in '70s-style bangs, their skin decorated with tattoos and piercings, and women in tight tops and stringy bedroom hair, sometimes with a streak of blue or red."
It seems as though today's younger drinkers are flocking toward fresh ingredients (premade sour mix and cranberry juice from concentrate just aren't cutting it anymore) and new, fancier twists on old favorites. A big hit at Luna Park is the Crimson Cosmopolitan, which is a Cosmopolitan made with pomegranate juice instead of cranberry juice. The bar also has its own version of the Apple Martini, which calls for its house-infused apple vodka. A.J. Gilbert, the owner-manager, says that the most popular drink is the classic Mojito, a refreshing Latin drink that he makes with light rum, fresh limes, fresh mint, sugar and club soda.
Mojitos are popular in Philadelphia, too—just ask Jack Miller, manager and bartender at Pizzicato, a traditional Italian restaurant. The difference here is that the crowds are going wild for the updated Mojitos that are putting Pizzicato on Philly's best-libations map. Miller puts an Italian twist on the drink by using Villa Massa Limoncello instead of rum and fresh lemon juice instead of limes. "Once my customers taste the Massa Mojito, they come back for more, and more and more," he says, adding that he loves to experiment with Italian liqueurs. "Another favorite among our customers is my Southern Italian Kiss. It's made with Amaretto di Saronno, Galliano and Ketel One Citrus vodka."
Back to the Future:
The clock gets turned back a tad at Butterfield 9, a trendy Washington, D.C., restaurant that harks back to The Thin Man film noir movies in style, décor and drinks. "The atmosphere here is conducive to drinking Martinis, and our younger bar crowd seems to feel that drinking cocktails is more sophisticated than having a beer or even a glass of wine," says manager Elizabeth Ross. But she isn't referring only to classic Martinis—many of the younger drinkers who frequent the bar here are partial to drinks just a little different from the norm.
From left, a frosty Mojito, as served at Luna Park in San Francisco; a Shagadelic Shooter, as served at 2087 An American Bistro in Thousand Oaks, California and a Crimson Cosmopolitan, as served at Luna Park.
Butterfield 9's Thin Man Martini, for instance, is made with Boodle's gin and Sherry, and it gets a garnish of an olive stuffed with smoked salmon. An interesting mix, but it might not be to everyone's taste. The Butterfield 9 drink that jumps off the cocktail menu (the menu says it "will make you smile"), though, would probably go down well with almost anyone. The B9 Martini is made with orange-flavored Grey Goose vodka, peach schnapps and a splash of Champagne. Unusual, but universal in appeal.
The Cosmopolitan, and the more recent creation, the Apple Martini, seem to have found a place on almost every bar's martini list, including that of Miami's Astor Place, the South Beach hot-spot in the oh-so-trendy Hotel Astor. Restaurant and bar manager Louis Landaeta says that his bartenders guide their under-30 crowd to try some new creations as well as the usual old standbys.
The signature drink at Astor Place is aptly named The Astor Martini. It's served in massive eight-ounce portions, and it's a very popular drink among Astor regulars and newcomers alike. Made with Ketel One vodka, grapefruit juice and Campari, The Astor is a complex concoction to serve to youthful drinkers, but again, it is an indication of the level of the crowd's sophistication.
When we were younger, we were always told to listen to the counsel of our elders, and sometimes we actually heeded that advice. What we weren't told, though, is just how important it is to listen to the wisdom of younger folk. Now that many of us have found ourselves to be in the, ahem, middle-age bracket, we're realizing how valuable the youthful perspective can be.
And what today's younger drinkers seem to be saying is, "Sip with style." We'll drink