Your guide to the most popular cocktails of the past 100 years.
Everyone has a go-to cocktail. Maybe it’s a vodka martini or a Long Island Iced Tea. But have you ever thought about the history of each drink? Who made it first and how did it become the “it” cocktail of its era?
Here’s a timeline of some of the most popular cocktails of each decade.
1920s – French 75
During the Prohibition era, two key ingredients transformed bootleg liquor into a palatable cocktail: citrus and sugar. Despite their best efforts to disguise it, the drinks were quite strong. A prominent cocktail from this time period was the French 75, a mixture of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and champagne. Make it with dry champagne so it’s not too sweet.
1930s – Bloody Mary
This cocktail, which was originally made with only vodka and tomato juice, is believed to have been created by Fernand Petiot in Paris in 1921. He introduced it to patrons of the St. Regis Hotel in New York when he began working there in 1934. Brunch has once again boosted its popularity with modern variations including unusual additions like clam juice or sake.
1940s – Mai Tai
While Manhattans and Sidecars ruled bar menus in the 1940s, so, too, did island-inspired cocktails. As the country faced World War II, many Americans dreamed of tropical escapes, leading to the tiki era. The head of the Trader Vic restaurant chain claimed to invent the Mai Tai in 1944, which featured rum, lime, orgeat, orange curacao and simple syrup. These days the cocktail is heavier on the juices.
1950s – Martini
Gin was all the rage in the ‘50s and so was the martini. While the original recipe featured gin, vermouth and an olive garnish, vodka eventually became a suitable liquor replacement. This cocktail has stood the test of time but it has also evolved. Gin and vodka martinis are still regularly ordered at bars across the country as well as chocolate, espresso and other sweet varieties.
1960s – Whiskey Sour
This cocktail got its start in 1862 and was created using fresh lemon juice, powdered sugar dissolved in seltzer water and bourbon or rye whiskey. It was a popular choice through the Prohibition and eventually became a staple at ‘60s-era dinner parties. At that time, premade sour mix took the place of fresh ingredients and some chose to add an egg white to make it frothy. Its popularity took it through Prohibition.
1970s – Harvey Wallbanger
A fitting cocktail for the time period, the Harvey Wallbanger is as flashy as the disco balls that would light the dance floor of 1970s nightclubs. Back then, Galliano, a liqueur with flavors of vanilla and anise, was extremely popular. When you float it over a screwdriver (vodka and orange juice), you get a sweet, neon drink that’s easy to make and even easier to imbibe.
1980s – Long Island Iced Tea
The ‘80s were a decade of sweet cocktails with plenty of booze. It was around then that TGI Friday’s claimed the creation of the Long Island Iced Tea, which was the happy hour drink of choice. With four types of alcohol – vodka, gin, rum and tequila – it was the perfect cocktail for the brand’s flair bartenders to whip up between bottle flips. However, others tend to agree that it was actually invented at Long Island’s Oak Beach Inn in 1972.
1990s – Boozy Milkshakes
People were drinking their dessert in the ‘90s, and, of course, they were adding booze. Popular varieties were the Mudslide, a mixture of Kahlua, Bailey’s and vodka blended with vanilla ice cream, and the Grasshopper, a pretty green concoction made with crème de menthe, crème de cacao and vanilla ice cream. Typically made with liqueurs, the boozy milkshakes of this era wouldn’t necessarily get you drunk, but they tasted good.
2000s – Cosmopolitan
Carrie Bradshaw and her girls made drinking Cosmos around the Big Apple look good on “Sex and the City” from the late ‘90s to the early 2000s. Even after the show went off the air in 2004, pop culture embraced the pink cocktail and it continues to be a popular choice. Probably because the mixture of vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice and fresh lime juice goes down easy and isn’t too sweet.
2017 – Moscow Mule
For the past several years, the combination of vodka and ginger beer, served in a cool copper mug with lime wedges, has been trending at bars across the country. It’s a light, refreshing drink that can pack a punch. While you can’t beat the classic, slight variations have brought this cocktail to another level, including the Mexican Mule and Kentucky Mule, which swap the vodka for tequila and bourbon respectively.