SidecarRitz Bar, Paris, France (1920s)

The Sidecar is an elegant, refined sip that recalls Paris in the 1920s, when Prohibition had forced America’s best bartenders overseas. Swap the brandy for tequila, lemon for lime, and you pretty much have a Margarita.

It’s traditional to moisten the glass rim with lemon and dip the rim in sugar – but certainly not necessary. I find the drink perfectly balanced on its own.

The Sidecar and the Margarita are where you’ll understand why a quality triple sec like Cointreau is worth every penny versus a cheaper variety that would overpower the drink with syrupy sweetness.

It’s said to be named for an American Army Captain stationed in Paris around the end of World War I who visited the Ritz Bar in a motorcycle sidecar – who knows, really? All you need to know about the Sidecar will be conveyed in your first sip: it’s a delicious classic worthy of its status.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Brandy or Cognac (recommended: Germain-Robin, Pierre Ferrand, Hennessy, Courvoisier)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lemon wheel, White sugar (optional)

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

If you choose to sugar the rim, sprinkle some sugar on a plate and moisten either the full rim or just half with your lemon wheel garnish and lightly press the glass rim into the sugar. Try to avoid getting sugar on the interior glass surface.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

2 oz brandy or Cognac
1 oz triple sec
3/4
oz lemon juice

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

MargaritaMexico or London (1930s – 1940s)

No singular cocktail has more people claiming its invention than the Margarita. Seems they all want to grab some family blood from America’s most popular cocktail. And, if you ask me, America’s most abused cocktail.

But there’s some strong evidence the cocktail originated in London, of all places – as the “Picador” cocktail, a spin on the classic 2:1:1 Sour template, in a variation known as a Daisy (just a Sour with a liqueur instead of simple syrup). Funny coincidence, “margarita” is Spanish for “daisy”.

You might have to hit five or six bars and restaurants to find one that isn’t made with that god-awful sour mix, even in recipes calling themselves “Cadillac.” How hard can it be to squeeze some fresh citrus, people? Sheesh.

Many people are surprised when I tell them a Margarita (done properly) is one of my favorite cocktails. Many people are also surprised when they taste a proper one for the first time – far different from the frozen, blended version that came out of Dallas in 1971 and came to be the standard for the next forty years. With the rise of fine tequilas since 2000 or so, many bartenders have come to embrace the perfect balance of a well-crafted Margarita, and an appreciation for this fragile and misunderstood spirit. An unusual minor tweak to the standard sour template is the addition of just a teaspoon of rich simple syrup – the drink simply is not the same without it. The syrup adds body and cuts through a strange bitterness that can sometimes linger between the tequila and Cointreau, bringing perfect balance.

Done like a Sidecar, this beauty needs no Slurpee, no salt. Some prefer this one on the rocks instead of served up; Either way works. Sabor es lo primero.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or Old Fashioned glass
Spirits: Tequila (blanco or reposado – recommended: El Jimador, Espolón)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wheel, Kosher salt (optional)

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

If you choose to salt the rim, sprinkle some kosher salt on a plate and moisten either the full rim or just half with your lime wheel garnish and lightly press the glass rim into the salt. Try to avoid getting salt on the interior glass surface.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

oz tequila
oz triple sec
3/4 oz lime juice
tsp rich simple syrup

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. (As an option, serve over ice cubes in an Old Fashioned glass.) Garnish with a lime wheel.

The Odeon, New York City, 1988

Vodka has become a monster, and this drink is responsible.

Toby Cecchini, bartender at The Odeon, took an existing recipe that had been bouncing around (a Kamikaze with cranberry) and did it properly by focusing on balance. The irony is, nearly no one makes a Cosmopolitan according to this original recipe anymore – they’ll add way too much sweetness, skip the fresh lime juice, and overload it with cranberry. This drink (along with the Lemon Drop) begat the unfortunate ’90s trend of Appletini, Chocotini, Whatevertini – which, in turn, begat the current shame of whipped cream vodka, Froot Loops vodka, PB&J vodka, and God knows what’s coming next. Now: there is a legitimate, historical tradition of infusing vodka with all kinds of natural things: fruit, herbs, roots, spices – but what comes out of a chemical laboratory and sells by the truckload these days is a scourge upon the land, to put it bluntly.

The shame of vodka drinks is this: vodka is ephemeral and delicate. Its micro-subtle aromas and flavors can get lost when chilled and mixed in a drink (probably why it’s preferred by those who don’t like the taste of alcohol). If by chance you’ve never tried a good vodka (like Absolut, Tito’s, or Karlsson’s Gold) neat, straight out of the bottle, at room temperature – I encourage you to do so. You may be surprised at the character of what the US government mandates must be “odorless, colorless, and tasteless.”

Having said all that, odds are you’ll be called on someday to make a Cosmopolitan for a guest. So if you must, why not do it well?

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Vodka (recommended: Absolut Citron)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Cranberry juice, Lemon twist

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
2 oz vodka
1 oz lime juice
1 oz triple sec
1/4 oz cranberry juice 

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Pinch a lemon twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then rub the twist around the glass rim to coat. Garnish with the twist laid across the surface of the drink.