A Cocktail Family Tree
David Wondrich shares the backstory of daiquiris, punches, and sours, and how they're related
If one were somehow to assemble all the people in the world who are obsessed with cocktails, it would — well, it would look a lot like Tales of the Cocktail, only bigger, louder, and even crazier. But assume you managed to get the "enthusiasts" (as I’ll euphemistically call them) to vote on which drinks belong in the pantheon of true classics. In the end, you’d probably come up with some 150 or 200 recipes.
Most of the elixirs on this list, alas, would be of doubtful parentage. The precise origins of the Martini, the Sidecar, the Margarita, the Rusty Nail, the bowl of punch, and even the original cocktail itself are sunk in obscurity. We don’t know exactly when they were invented, or where.
Fortunately, there are a few concoctions whose nativity is known. The Daiquiri, for one, dates back to the hills outside Santiago de Cuba, in 1897. Others began their careers as signature drinks of a particular watering hole. The Mai Tai was originally served at Trader Vic’s, whose restaurant chain is still with us, as is the Carousel Bar in New Orleans’ Hotel Monteleone, which gave us the wonderful Vieux Carré.
But many seminal establishments, however, have migrated to the Great Cocktail Route in the Sky, orphaning their signature drinks. Los Angeles’ Don the Beachcomber, home of the Zombie, was a parking lot last time I checked. Victor Morris’ fine bar in Lima, Peru, that whipped up the Pisco Sour is as defunct as the Inca Empire.
Luckily, at least a few of these orphan creations commemorate their birthplaces with their names. The Manhattan, for example, keeps the old Manhattan Club alive.
And a couple of these tipples have found themselves new homes. From the 1880s until the late 1940s (with a brief hiatus due to Japanese occupation), the Pegu Club was the place in Rangoon, Burma, where British colonialists and their foreign guests gathered to cut the humidity with something cold and wet. Its house cocktail (pictured above), created in the 1910s or 1920s, was so delightfully effective that in 2005, when Audrey Saunders opened her (also delightfully effective) New York bar, she named it the Pegu Club and has featured the eponymous libation ever since.
Likewise, three years later, when Liquor.com advisory board member Julie Reiner settled in Brooklyn, she chose the pink and frothy but ridiculously tasty signature cocktail of Philadelphia’s defunct Clover Club, a rowdy association of journalists and local politicians that closed a couple decades into the 20th century, to christen her new joint. I like a drink with a happy ending.
David Wondrich is the author of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl and Esquire magazine’s drinks correspondent. He is also a Liquor.com advisory board member.