The Cosmopolitan – How Hollywood Created Another Alcoholic Icon
April 12, 2016
What do you really know about the most popular cocktail of the last decade? Did you even know what the Cosmopolitan was before you began reading this article?
Well, it’s probably not going to be a surprise that there is no contest; the Cosmopolitan is the cocktail kingpin of the past quarter century.
There is some debate about who created it however…
The History of The Cosmopolitan
The history of cocktails is fascinating.
An early version of the Cosmopolitan dates back to the 1930s (using gin instead of vodka), and in 1968, Ocean Spray cranberry juice bottles promoted a recipe for a cranberry juice, vodka and lime cocktail called the Harpoon.
As for the modern recipe, bartender Neal Murray makes a claim that he developed the Cosmopolitan cocktail in Minnesota in the late 1970s by adding a splash of cranberry juice to a Kamikaze.
Murray brought the drink to the west coast in the 1980s where it reportedly gained followers at the Fog City Diner in San Francisco.
In actual fact, it’s very fitting that a woman, Cheryl Cook, is widely credited with creating the basic formula in 1985 when she was bartending at The Strand in Miami’s South Beach.
Cook said she came up with the Cosmopolitan as a more-feminine version of a Martini as part of a test market for Absolut Citron vodka. She noticed women weren’t ordering Martinis for the taste, but for the look of the classic glass.
Her recipe combined Absolut Citron, a splash of triple sec, a drop of Rose’s lime cordial and just enough cranberry to make it oh so pretty in pink, served up with a curled lemon peel garnish.
Recently she spoke for the first time about her creation and the night she gave birth to it:
“I served my first Cosmopolitan to Christina Solopuerto the night we received the ‘First’ bottle of Absolut Citron. Christina was sitting the bar at The Strand on South Beach, in 1985.
The Strand was under the original ownership of Gary Farmer, Irene Gersing and Mark Benck. Within 30 minutes, the entire bar had a Cosmo in front of them. Within 45 minutes, the entire restaurant had one.
I had already emptied the ‘one and only’ bottle of Absolut Citron, so I had to squeeze lemons into the regular Absolut.
Regarding ‘Sex And The City’ popularising this drink; Patricia and Rebeca Fields, the costume designers (mother and daughter team) for the entire run of Sex And The City, were customers of mine for 15 years.
They sat at every bar I ever worked and watched, first hand, the sheer onslaught of South Beach Cosmo drinkers.
By the way, I even named my cat Cosmo!”
How We Got To Know And Love The Cosmopolitan
As with pretty much all cocktails, it’s not clear who really invented the Cosmopolitan.
However, New York bartenders Toby Cecchini (The Odeon) and Dale DeGroff (the Rainbow Room) are both credited with tweaking the recipe in the late 1980s by replacing the Rose’s with fresh lime juice and using Cointreau instead of Triple Sec; DeGroff also added a flamed orange peel garnish.
But the Cosmopolitan’s story just begins here.
First officially referenced in publications in 1993, the really interesting history of the drink began after it was finally tweaked, as it’s one of the most celebrated in celluloid history.
Aside from the Martini and its constant association with all things James Bond, the Cosmo is the drink of the glitterati for the new age of mixology and celebrity.
Some years later in New York, Melissa Huffsmith shared a version of the Cosmopolitan with her Odeon co-worker Toby Cecchini, who tweaked it with fresh lime juice and Cointreau.
Huffsmith might have learned it from anywhere, and it is suggested the cocktail began life on the New York gay scene (which would fit well with its future supporters).
But either way, theirs is the recipe which is now officially recognised.
With clientele including Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Odeon was a place to be seen: an artier answer to the famous Rainbow Room at the Rockefeller Center.
It was at the Rainbow Room in 1996, paparazzi photographed Madonna sipping a Cosmopolitan at a Grammy Awards after-party. The drink suddenly became a big star.
So, when Sex and the City premiered in 1998, the Cosmo was already a cocktail for women to be seen drinking.
Not yet either a classic or a cliché, it was a status symbol linked to particular cool bars. However, the Cosmopolitan became practically synonymous with the show and it’s love of all things New York.
The HBO series Sex and the City, which ran from 1998 to 2004 and several movies after, really put the Cosmopolitan on the map for the mainstream, as it was a favourite of main character Carrie Bradshaw and her three best girlfriends.
Sex and the City made the cocktail so popular that Cosmos became uncool, though many people never stopped drinking them.
The show’s characters strive to find authentic love in a New York driven by appearances. And what better symbol of feminine materialism than a cocktail favoured by the Material Girl herself?
The Cosmo has been on the list of the top 10 of most popular drinks overall since 2000, though its share peaked in 2003.
The drink deserves major credit for ushering in the era of fruity and dessert Martinis like the Appletini and the Chocolate Martini, and fuelling interest in new spirits and different flavours.
It is considered to be the last true classical cocktail created in the 20th century and whether on trend, or out of style, is definitely here to stay.
So next time you sip a Cosmo at your local bar, take a moment to celebrate its celebrity status and friends.
Written by Ian ‘Fizz’ Fišermanis:
Twitter: @BusyMrFizzy @BrainStormer_UK @BarTwentyFive
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