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How Amaretto, OJ and Coors Became a Rite of Passage

Developed in the late 1990s at Edna's in Oklahoma City, the "Lunchbox" has become the city's most beloved drink.

lunchbox boilermaker

A healthy glug of amaretto goes into a shot glass at the bottom of a chilled beer mug. The mug is then filled up, just over three-quarters of the way, with Coors Light, which is then topped off with orange juice. It takes about 10 seconds to make a Lunchbox. And in keeping with Oklahoma City tradition, polishing one off should take even less time.

“It’s meant to be downed as a shot, but it’s not as big as it looks,” says Tammy Lucas, whose Oklahoma City bar, Edna’s, started serving its signature cocktail sometime in the late 1990s. The submerged shot glass, she points out, takes up space that’d otherwise be used to Tap the Rockies. “It’s an optical illusion.”

That’s about as close as the Classen Circle landmark will ever get to getting one over on its clientele. Founded by Lucas’ late mother, Edna’s is an affordable, pretense-free place whose come-one, come-all reputation reverberates throughout the capital city. The bar, which celebrated its 30th anniversary on February 21, earned its stature the right way, and the Lunchbox has played a large role in its renown.

It all starts with Edna Scott, a larger-than-life hostess blessed with a natural gift for getting the party started. Born in 1942, Scott began her hospitality career as a waitress in a hotel restaurant with an adjoining alehouse. Seeing how easily patrons took to her, management asked if she would work the bar side full-time. “She was like, ‘Oh, my dad would never go for that,’” recalls Lucas.

But Scott’s father, Woodrow Wilson “Skeet” Scott, couldn’t have been more supportive. “He said, ‘Edna, you can be the person you are no matter what your job is,’” says Lucas. “That’s how she got started in the bar business.”

Before introducing her eponymous establishment, Scott ran a few other Oklahoma City haunts, including Tradewinds, a bar near the state capitol building where she built relationships with legislators and power players. But Edna’s is where she truly came into her own.

“You can’t even describe the way she would make people feel,” says Lucas, who started working for her mom at the age of 18. “Everyone was just drawn to her—her charisma, her genuine, loving, fun, outgoing self.” This outsized personality took center stage anytime someone punched up “Great Balls of Fire” on the Edna’s jukebox—the owner’s cue to hop up on the bar and put on a one-woman show. “I would make the lights strobe and shine a flashlight on her, and people would just go insane,” says Lucas.

Inspiring similar enthusiasm is the Lunchbox, which was discovered by mistake. As Lucas tells it, it came about during Scott’s attempt to make a Flaming Dr. Pepper, a beer-and-amaretto shot. Though her mother added the wrong ingredients to the glass, “She didn’t like to waste anything, and she did like to drink,” says Lucas, laughing. “So she drank it herself, and it was pretty good.”

And the name? “It’s got a little bit of everything you need in it, you know?” the creator’s daughter explains.

Early on, the cocktail wasn’t a listed menu item, but the Edna’s staff would make them for regulars in the know. By 2005, it had grown enough in notoriety to earn itself a dedicated button in the POS system, allowing staff to tally its sales. They fixed their two millionth Lunchbox last month, and the recipe hasn’t changed one iota throughout: Di Amore Amaretto, store-bought orange juice in a speed pour and the Silver Bullet served in an ice-cold vessel.

Currently, Lucas has three freezers dedicated solely to the Lunchbox; on busy nights, she’ll pre-pour the amaretto to get the drinks out quicker. “The frosty mug makes a huge difference,” says Oklahoma City food and drink writer Greg Horton. “They really chill the shit out of that thing.”

Edna’s Lunchbox numbers are truly mind-boggling; the humble neighborhood bar was a top-10 consumer of Coors Light in its region in the last quarter of 2018, right up there with huge venues like Red Rocks Amphitheater and the American Airlines Center. But the drink’s popularity has also been influenced by forces less tangible than sub-zero glassware.

Nowadays, the Oklahoma City boasts a growing craft cocktail scene, but “for the longest time, it was just Jack and Cokes, 7 and 7s, and Gin and Tonics,” says Horton. “The Lunchbox sorta found a niche.” It’s long been a liquid rite of passage for local 21st-birthday celebrants and out-of-towners alike. And it’s championed as a source of Sooner pride by high-profile natives, like chef Danny Bowien, who Lunchbox’d Jimmy Fallon and Questlove on The Tonight Show in 2015.

Fellow native David Holt, who was elected Oklahoma City’s 36th mayor in 2018, offers a slightly more philosophical take. “If I wanted to be poetic about the Lunchbox, I might observe that, much like a first-time visitor to Oklahoma City, the drinker thinks they’re ordering the most pedestrian of drinks,” only to taste something “entirely unique,” says Holt, who once brought Academy Award-winner Holly Hunter into Edna’s.

Edna Scott passed away in 2014 after a six-year battle with cancer. She tended bar all the way up to 2010, when a broken hip took her off the schedule, but “I would still bring her in a lot, and have to pull her off all the guys,” jokes her daughter. Edna’s is still operated by kin, as the doyenne would have wanted. Lucas’ sister, Linda, works there too, as do Lucas’ two sons and their girlfriends.

The family has leaned all the way into Lunchbox Mania. The menu now features variations like the Docbox, with cranberry juice, and the Tootsie Roll Box, with crème de cacao. You can buy Lunchbox T-shirts and Lunchbox-flavored lip balm. You can even “Lunchbox Up” an order of sweet potato fries, with almonds and amaretto-infused marshmallow drizzle. If anyone outside Edna’s attempted to co-opt it, “they would be openly mocked and boycotted,” according to Horton. (One bar in Tulsa seems to have dared.)

While it’s rarely the case with cocktails, there is no questioning this one’s provenance. The Lunchbox is Edna’s—which means it’s Oklahoma City’s, too. In this way, Scott’s accidental invention embodies “the overall Oklahoma City experience,” says Mayor Holt. “We’re not what you expect.”

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