The birth of a particular cocktail is a lot more than following an impulse to mix liquor “X” with juice “Y” and garnish “Z.” The most revered libations grow out of a sense of place, where local ingredients, resources, current events, regional appetites, and bartenders native to the terra firma meld together to create something memorable. Of course, given the murky history of drinking, which is replete with the ghosts of Prohibition and less-than-complete documentation, some places have simply become synonymous with a particular drink—which is also part of the fun. The Sazerac is New Orleans. Ditto the Manhattan and New York City.
Here are 10 of the best cocktails associated with a particular city.
Input on this list was provided by bartenders and co-owners at Room 11 and Mockingbird Hill, two DC-area drinking establishments.
Photo via Allcocktails.net
Though the more well-known and popular version of the Rickey is served with gin, the first Rickey, poured in the Washington, D.C., establishment the Shoemaker, was made in the 1880s with bourbon as the key spirit, along with ice, soda water, and the juice of half a lime. The Rickey went worldwide about a decade later when gin became the keynote alcohol, and more than a century later the drink has made a resurgence across the country. For that, you can thank a cadre of D.C.-area bartenders who dubbed July “Rickey Month,” a reason for everyone across the city to celebrate the drink’s heritage and attend events where variations on the classics are served as the perfect antidote to the infamous humidity of the nation’s capital.
Though Puerto Rico may qualify as mostly within the United States, its capital city deserves the honor of inclusion on this list because it created one of the quintessential tropical cocktails. Crafted in 1963 by Ramon Portas Mingot at Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan, the piña colada would later suffer the indignities of the cruise ship scene. But nothing compliments the Caribbean sun—and beats the equatorial heat—better than the heady mixture of ice, rum, and fresh pineapple.
Photo via Colony Wine Market
Originally named after Sazerac de Forge et Fils, the brand of Cognac brandy used as the central ingredient, this New Orleans staple has blossomed from its pre-Civil War days to become one of the more riffed-upon American cocktails (and include variations with rum to whisky to bourbon to rye)—fitting for one of the first cocktails made in the United States. We say go with a nice micro-distilled rye whisky with a swirl of absinthe, along the requisite Peychaud’s bitters, simple sugar, and an orange peel.
Photo via Foodrepublic.com
The city of Louisville may not have created the mint julep, but thanks to the drinking traditions established by the Kentucky Derby, it pretty much owns it outright today. Origins of this bourbon-based sprint and summer favorite are murky, stretching back as far as the early 1800s when Virginians sipped on a dram of the stuff, mixed with mint leaves, in the morning. It became the signature drink of Churchill Downs in 1938, and today they serve more than 80,000 during the two-day event surrounding the derby.
Photo via Seaofshoes.com
Like old world fashion trends, cocktail recipes can get washed away in the forever-rising tide of the latest-and-greatest. Such was the fate of the Last Word, a gin-based Prohibition-era cocktail mixed with green Chartreuse, marachino liquour, and fresh lime juice that was first made at the Detroit Athletic Club. Until, that is, crate-digging Detroit bartender Murray Stenson found the ancient recipe and brought it back, triggering a riff on the refreshing cocktail among mixologists across the country.
Photo via Chow.com
Almost any city with a robust urban population likely has a Ward 8, but when it comes to the cocktail, there’s only one: the Ward 8 from Boston. Dating back to 1898, this play on the whisky sour—a mixture of rye, lemon, and orange juice, sweetened with teaspoon of grenadine—was introduced at the a celebratory dinner for one of Bean Town’s old city politicians. Lore dictates that it also became a type of currency during Prohibition, used to pay off locals for votes in Ward 8 speakeasies.
Though less well-known than its sister drink the pisco sour, the punch variety is actually older, dating back to 1853 when it was crafted in San Francisco’s Bank Exchange and Billiard Saloon. Made with Peruvian pisco (a grape brandy that traces back to the 16th century), the punch includes a combination of lime juice, pineapple, distilled water, sugar, and gum arabic. Fans like Mark Twain and New Yorker founder Harold Ross helped promote it to the masses beyond the Golden Gate.
Though the exact place within the city where this drink originates is still debatable (was it Dr. Iaian Marshall in the Manhattan Club in the early 1870s or Black the bartender on Broadway near Houston in the 1860s with the lead pipe), there’s no denying that the Manhattan can be traced back to America’s Gotham. The classic mixture of bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters, and a cherry garnish have since evolved to damn near every mutation imaginable. But the original still stands a central cornerstone as the true American classic.
Arguably the most controversial drink on this list, the origins of the famed Old Fashioned live in cocktail lore. Some reports date back to 1806 as a morning drink, but we’ll default to Chicago because that’s the city where the first published reference to the drink originates. As quoted in the Tribune in 1882, a Chicago bartender dubbed the “old fashioned” a mixture of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar. And in most circles that spirit is bourbon—unless it’s rye…or rum or gin. But you may be best off following Don Draper, another character with a nebulous past and fan of the drink since the first season of Mad Men: go with a classic brown spirit, and let the revival (and your bartender’s fancy) take hold.
Its origins may vary, but there’s no doubt L.A. played a significant part in popularizing this American original. It was ordered by the lead characters in Casablanca, Raymond Chandler referenced it in The Big Sleep, and the list of films in which it appears is pretty endless (The Red Shoes, An Affair to Remember, While the City Sleeps…). What isn’t as hard to define is the drink’s essential recipe: Angostura bitters, champagne, brandy, and a cube of sugar to create bubbles and add sweetness, topped with a cherry—as dictated by the International Bartenders Association.