Throwback Tipples: Classic Cocktails Stage a Comeback

classic cocktails

The ultimate #TBT, National Brandy Alexander Day, is Thursday, January 31. So, let’s toast the oldies but goodies, the vintage cocktails that we still sip and love. We’ve rounded up 14 restaurants that go retro with classic sips this winter — some of these comeback kid cocktails are much the same when the twenties roared, while others have been reimagined. But all have stood the test of time and, as beverage director Michael Ray at Chopps American Bar and Grill in Burlington, Massachusetts, put it so eloquently, “Retro cocktails remind us of a historical, tough, and patriotic time and truly are the cornerstone of bartending, in addition to guest services.”  So whether you’re toasting #ThirstyThursday with a friend or gathering your work family for a post-project celebration, these classics will give you something to “cheers” about. Not near one of these spots? OpenTable can help you find a restaurant near you.

Bourbon Steak Orange County, Dana Point, California
The binary beverage program here includes a menu of classic cocktails alongside their contemporary counterparts, a play on the duality of old vs. new. Like the Sazerac. Bartender Jenny Buchhagen pours a classic version (H by Hine VSOP cognac, Peychaud’s bitters, Angostura bitters, and absinthe spritz) as well as a new-school, pretty-in-pink rendition (Ketel One vodka, Nolet’s Silver gin, Dolin Blanc, Italicus liqueur, orange, and Peychaud’s bitters). Make a reservation at Bourbon Steak Orange County.

 Classic Cocktails

Gaby Brasserie Francaise, New York, New York
A skip away from Broadway, in the heart of the Theater District, Broadway fans will want to order the applause-worthy “WAITRESS The Musical Winter Old Fashioned” cocktail. You’ll get a retro sip with a seasonal twist — and a nod to the smashing show. The cocktail stars spiced simple syrup (cinnamon, clove, star anise), Bulleit bourbon, and bitters and is garnished with a supporting cast of bourbon-soaked cranberries and an orange peel. Make a reservation at Gaby Brasserie Francaise.

 Classic Cocktails

Occidental Grill & Seafood, Washington, D.C.
Fun, approachable and witty are oft-used words that are used to describe the cocktails expertly poured here by legendary bar manager and mixologist Franklin “Frankie” M. Jones. But if you want time to stand still, ask him to make you a timeless, elegant French 75 and you’ll get the lithe and refreshing classic sip that has been served through the years since World War I, created with gin, fresh lemon juice, and Champagne. Make a reservation at Occidental Grill & Seafood.

classic cocktails

Water Grill, San Diego, California
The cocktail program features classic sips like an updated Campfire Sling with straight rye whiskey, maple syrup, and chocolate bitters served over block ice with scorched orange oil and the Maritime Mule poured with Fair Trade Vodka, fresh lime, sea salt, and ginger beer and served in that classic copper cup. The Ramos Gin Fizz is a tipple that harkens all the way back to the 1800s. Here it’s created with gin, fresh citrus, egg white, orange blossom, and milk, shaken with vigor and charged with soda. Make a reservation at Water Grill.

classic cocktails

Soby’s, Greenville, South Carolina
Housed in a renovated 1800s cotton mill, this is a cotton-pickin’ good spot to sip one of the “inspired-by-the-classics” cocktails created here. The Pisco Sour (Pisco, lime, simple syrup) is a popular pick or try the Brown Derby (Elijah Craig bourbon, honey, lemon, juice, ruby red grapefruit juice). Soby’s specializes in New South cuisine (think shrimp and grits and fried chicken, y’all), and is credited with having kicked off Greenville’s culinary revitalization. Make a reservation at Soby’s.

Booth One, Chicago, Illinois
To honor its 80th birthday, the restaurant debuted a menu that fuses Chicago’s history with the history of cocktail culture, inviting imbibers to be transported to “a moment in the iconic space’s history.” Cocktails include the Cynar Flip, a split base of rye whiskey, Cynar, whole egg, and a touch of cream; the Tony Accardo, a classic Godfather sip with bourbon and creme de noyaux — and concrete shoes; and The Playboy Club, a pour of Prosecco, passion fruit, and lime, a nod to the 70s disco fever. Make a reservation at Booth One.

classic cocktails

Shaw’s Crab House, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago is a cosmopolitan town. And the River North Cosmo mixed here is a taste of cocktail history with a sophisticated, urban Windy City vibe. It’s built with Poland Select vodka, Luxardo aperitivo, fresh lime juice, Cointreau, and Briottet creme de cassis, shaken, double strained, and garnished with a lime wheel. A perfect pairing for the seafood-driven menu (there’a an oyster bar for slurping) — and the famous Key Lime pie is a taste of sunshine in a Chicago snowstorm. Make a reservation at Shaw’s Crab House.

classic cocktails

Madison, San Diego, California
Hot toddies are the quintessential winter drink and the comforting sips were especially popular back in the day. You can do your mixologist magic and design your own boozy hot toddy to warm up and chill out at the “Build Your Own Hot Toddy” bar at this stylish hotspot. Choose your preferred spirit, such as Elijah Craig bourbon, sweetener (pure local honey is one option), and citrus or fruit including pineapple, lime, lemon, and grapefruit. It’s a hug in a mug. Make a reservation at Madison.

classic cocktails

Il Solito, Portland, Oregon
A favorite vintage cocktail of lead bartender Nathan Elliot is the classy Boulevardier. It’s his teasing twist on a classic Negroni and is made with Basil Hayden, Campari, Cocchi Storico vermouth di Torino, subbing whiskey for gin. Nathan appreciates the simplicity of a three-ingredient classic cocktail but favors this version because the sweetness of bourbon works well with the bitter-orange flavor of Campari. Plus, as a Portlander, he’s a fan of whiskey. Make a reservation at Il Solito.

classic cocktails

Bourbon Steak-Four Seasons, Washington, D.C.
The ageless Negroni Nero at this D.C. power spot is built with El Silencio Espadin mezcal, Luxardo amaro abano, Pernod absinthe, and Campari — and is still a mover and shaker.  Hawaiian born-and-raised head bartender Sarah Rosner has been pouring cocktail magic here for 10 years and is the first female head bartender at the restaurant. And she’ll time travel and create you the celebrated sip with Aloha. Make a reservation at Bourbon Steak-Four Seasons.

classic cocktails

Flannel, Stowe, Vermont
A day on the slopes at Topnotch Resort, followed by a housemade Classic Greyhound is a top-notch idea. The reimagined sip is made with Tanqueray Gin, grapefruit-infused simple syrup, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, and ice. The timeless Greyhound celebrates the simple life and authenticity of flavor, without being monotonous, mimicking the mountain life here in Stowe. Note: vodka is sometimes used in recipes to make this iconic sip, but gin was believed to have been used in the 1930s when it was first created. Make a reservation at Flannel.

classic cocktails

Brennan’s, New Orleans, Louisiana
The oldest known American cocktail, dating to the 1800s, is believed to be the Sazerac — and it originated in the Big Easy. Order Brennan’s classy, classic sip that’s made with Sazerac rye, Peychaud’s bitters, and Herbsaint. Lead bartender Lu Brow has revamped the celebrated cocktail program, giving a nod to the city’s legendary and storied cocktail history and also incorporating flavors from James Beard finalist chef Slade Rushing’s standout dishes. Make a reservation at Brennan’s.

classic cocktails

Spruce Farm & Fish, Boulder, Colorado
Get your Prohibition on with the secret off-menu cocktail, The Southside. It’s a speakeasy sip at this restaurant sharing a space with License No. 1, a bar that specializes in Prohibition-era classic cocktails. The origins of the alluring drink are shrouded in mystery but apparently date to 1917 and Al Capone is likely involved. It’s crafted with gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and a mint leaf garnish. Make a reservation at Spruce Farm & Fish.

classic cocktails

Chopps American Bar and Grill, Burlington, Massachusetts
The brand may change, but the tried and true classic cocktail recipe never does, says beverage director Michael Ray. Order his tried-and-trued Chopps Cosmopolitan (Tin Cup whiskey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and a dash of bitters) and you’ll get not a Sex and the City Cosmopolitan (vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice, and lime) but the authentic sip that dates to the 1920s. Make a reservation at Chopps American Bar and Grill.

classic cocktails

What restaurants pour your favorite classic cocktails? Tell us here or over on FacebookInstagramPinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.

Laurie Bain Wilson is a Boston-based journalist, author, and essayist who writes often about travel, food, and baseball. Find her on Twitter @laurieheather.

Photo credits: Christina Slaton (Booth One); Chris Granger (Brennan’s).