Bartender, I’ll have sex on the beach, please.
That joke never gets old. Some cocktails were named just to hear a customer order them, others for the way they promise to make the drinker feel (Stinger, Gimlet, Zombie). Still others identify ingredients or flavors (Pimm’s Cup, Lemon Drop, Orange Blossom).
Many drinks are simply named for the place where they were invented. The daiquiri, for example, comes from Daiquirí, Cuba, about 14 miles east of Santiago de Cuba. It’s not always so simple: The Manhattan was created in Manhattan, at the Manhattan Club. But some claim that it was concocted in 1874 in honor of Governor William J. Tilden; others theorize that it came to be in 1890 for Supreme Court Justice Charles Henry Truax. The Screwdriver was allegedly named in the 1950s for oil riggers stationed in the Middle East who used their screwdrivers to stir their drinks. Allegedly is the key word, because really, who remembers? Below, a few more contested cocktails.
There’s no person in cocktail history named Tom Collins. However, there was a John Collins. He was the headwaiter at a London hotel in the early 19th century, and the eponymous gin punch was originally named for him—though not created by him. According to cocktail historian and author David Wondrich, the recipe for a similar gin punch was circulating around London at the time. The name changed when the Old Tom brand of gin was used to make the drink.
This cocktail is usually attributed to the marketing geniuses over at Galliano (a brand now owned by European conglomerate Maxxium). A Wallbanger is a Screwdriver (vodka and OJ) with a bit of Galliano liqueur floated on top, popular in the late 1960s and 1970s. The colorful (but probably fictional) tale says that Harvey was a surfer and/or wharf worker in California, who after too many bad days on the waves consoled himself with so many Galliano-spiked Screwdrivers that he staggered into the walls.
Ask five bartenders and you’ll get five answers, though most do agree that the margarita was created in Mexico in the 1930s. Wondrich says that the margarita takes its name from the Spanish word for daisy, which is a drink made with fruity liqueur and club soda. A slew of bartenders claim to have invented it and named it in homage to their girlfriends. Further, Texan Margarita Sames insisted she created an eponymous drink for guests while living in Acapulco in 1948.
Few agree on who created the first Sidecar, but most concur that it was made for a gentleman whose preferred mode of transportation was a motorcycle sidecar. Many attribute the earliest appearance of this brandy-based classic to Harry’s Bar in Paris in the early 1900s.
Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love
So how do modern mixologists name their drinks?
Portland, Oregon-based consultant Ryan Magarian often goes for shock value. “I love names with unexpectedness,” he explains. Consider the Hot Voodoo Love, which is on the cocktail menu at Table 8 in Florida’s South Beach. Magarian deconstructs the name: Hot is appropriate for a drink featuring horseradish-infused vodka. Voodoo is intended to evoke a magical feel. And Love?
“I look for words that are stimulating, sexy, strike a chord,” he says. “I have a series of love drinks,” including the memorable Love Unit, concocted for Hyde Lounge in Los Angeles. “I’ll see a group of girls reading Love Unit on the menu and they’ll giggle; I love it.”
Meanwhile, David Wondrich, classicist that he is, riffs on the old standbys. He created the White Star Imperial Daisy for Manhattan’s 5 Ninth restaurant. The restaurant is about a block away from where the White Star steamship line used to dock. White Star is also the name of a type of Moët Champagne. “In the old days, if you used Champagne instead of fizzy water, [a Daisy] would be called an Imperial or a Royale,” Wondrich says. And so, the White Star Imperial Daisy—based on a classic Daisy—was born.
Not every drink name is destined to endure. Wondrich created the Swinging Chad, but “after the 2000 election was over, everyone got sick of it.”