A Return to Disco-Era Drinking

70s cocktail with 70s sodas
Photo by Frank Ishman

Dust off your bell-bottom jeans and macramé belt: A crop of new bars is channeling last century’s most groovy decade, the 1970s. Except this time, there’s an elevated take on the now-classic cocktails—like Harvey Wallbangers and punch bowls—that defined the era’s drinking aesthetic, linking ingenuity with nostalgia.

In July, Rec Room opened the doors to its basement bar in Chicago’s hip River North neighborhood, showcasing a stack of vinyl and comfy couches. Open Thursday to Sunday, it’s the younger sibling of the upstairs bar, Henry’s Swing Club. While the décor is clearly nostalgic, head bartender Scott Koehl admits that none of the drinks he’s devised are carbon copies from the disco era.

Henry's Cocktail 4
Henry’s Cocktail / Photo courtesy Rec Room

“The ’70s was kind of a dead period for cocktails—it’s when drinks started to get sugary and sweet,” Koehl says. “We wanted that as the backbone but with more balance.” He points to a punch recipe with ginger and gin, and the bar’s own Sloe Gin Fizz, which utilizes American gin and sloe gin.

Also in Chicago is The Brass Monkey, a Fulton Market bar and restaurant celebrating its one-year anniversary in February.

“It pays tribute to an era we don’t really see a lot,” says General Manager Daniel Barat. “It’s 1970s, but it’s not in-your-face 1970s gaudy. Our whole concept is elevated ’70s.”

A Tang cocktail and a Harvey Wallbanger anchor the drink list and pair with a mix of cheese balls, pot roast and TV dinners (served in ceramic trays). Patrons can visit the vinyl room and bring choice records to the DJ booth, decked out with shag carpet.

At The Nightingale Room, a live-music venue and bar that opened in downtown Houston in 2014, guests lounge on mid-century-style furniture and down hot dogs for sustenance. A bartender whips up shots, as well as classic cocktails like an Old Fashioned. A weekday happy hour includes music spun on vinyl.

Naturally, at least one coastal bar wove itself into a 1970s narrative. Good Times at Davey Wayne’s in Hollywood popped up in 2014. Avocado-green sectional sofas, hammocks, a mixologist working out of an Airstream and Choco Tacos work to recall this bygone era. Owners and twins Jonnie and Mark Houston, founders of Houston Hospitality, a 10-bar group that also includes No Vacancy, a speakeasy-style bar in Hollywood, named the bar after their father.

“Our dad, David Wayne Houston, would always have friends over, a fridge full of beer and the barbecue going,” says Mark. “The bar echoes our childhood house: with ’70s patterns, retro fabrics and ‘No. 1 Dad’ mugs for draft beer, just the way our dad drank it.”

On the drink list are Tequila snow cones and signature concoctions like the Cisco Kid, which blends absinthe and jalapeño-infused reposado Tequila. 

Published on December 4, 2015
Topics: Cocktail Trends