Classic Cocktails: The History Behind 4 Popular Cocktails

Most people like to enjoy a drink after a long day’s work, or during some much-needed R&R while on vacation — there’s no doubt about that. And with an overwhelming selection of alcohol and an overly-saturated market of hipster bartenders creating the next best (deconstructed) thing, there are some classic cocktails that have stood the test of time, and will continue to reign supreme on the list of well-respected alcoholic beverages. Here are the origins behind 4 of your favorite old-school drinks.

1. The Screwdriver

a screwdriver

The screwdriver | Source: iStock

A simple drink with just two ingredients — vodka and orange juice — this cocktail packs a powerful punch, no matter what time of day it is. With the O.J. component and just one type of alcohol, the Screwdriver is a drink that’s (somewhat) acceptable morning, noon, or night. So, how exactly did this simple concoction nab the namesake of a construction tool? Well, a long time ago, an American oil worker in the Persian Gulf would slyly add a dose of vodka to their cups of orange juice while on the job. Having only their daily tools within reach, they’d use a screwdriver to mix the two, and onlookers were none the wiser.

2. The Old-Fashioned


An Old-Fashioned | Source: iStock

For many, the Old-Fashioned is a drink in which sugar and bitters are muddled, alcohol is added, like whiskey or brandy, and the glass is then garnished with a citrus rind. But really, the Old-Fashioned has much more to do with tradition, bar etiquette, and American history than it does with the actual drink itself. No matter what type of liquor is being poured into an Old-Fashioned, the overarching theme, as discussed by Jeremy Glass, is that the real proof is in the process in which the cocktail is crafted.

From noteworthy aristocrats to modern men looking to showcase a little class, the Old-Fashioned will not soon go out of style. Most of which abide by the sugar, bitters, ice and alcohol version, when some people order an Old-Fashioned, they’re paying homage to a more sophisticated time. As mentioned in a 1936 New York Times article, back in the day, a glass was prepared with the fixings, then passed over to the bar patron, along with a bottle of bourbon so he could pour his own drink, this was considered to be a privilege.

3. The Martini

a martini

Martini | Source: iStock

While the exact origin of the martini has not been unanimously agreed upon, there are certain theories that have remained prevalent throughout the discussion. According to popular legend, the martini was invented at The Knickerbocker Hotel by a bartender who created the drink for John D. Rockefeller when the hotel was originally opened from 1906-1921. In present day, The Knickerbocker now offers the Martini Lunch at the Charlie Palmer at The Knick, paying homage to their past and to appeal to businessmen alike, offering two courses and a martini.

4. The Bloody Mary

bloody mary garnished with a peppercorn rim, lemon, and a celery stalk

Bloody Mary in a mason jar | Source: iStock

A time-honored concoction consisting of a few varying ingredients — the two main ones being vodka and tomato juice — the Bloody Mary is a well-recognized drink of choice for breakfast, brunch, aprés ski celebrations, and the like. Widely considered to be the birthplace of the Bloody Mary, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris has been treating guests to a little slice of Manhattan from across the pond for more than a century. During a time of Prohibition in the states, this New York style bar became so popular that liquor-hungry Americans would tell taxi drivers to deliver them to Harry’s, and around 1920, people who escaped the Russian Revolution showed up to Paris, with vodka and caviar in tow.

Harry’s bartender, Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot, who had also been recently introduced to canned tomato juice by the Americans, eventually mixed the two, and, as they say, the rest is history. The drink caught on quickly, and in 1933, Vincent Astor brought over Petiot to recreate the experience at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. It didn’t take much time for the drink to become a sought-after “cure” for a dreaded hangover, either.

More from Culture Cheat Sheet: