On March 12, the Thursday before the majority of the United States went into coronavirus lockdown, several Twitter users stumbled upon the same joke: It was time to fix themselves a Quarantini. By the end of the day, celebrities and blue-check users like JoJo and Sharon Stone were viralizing the gag. By the end of the weekend, our nation’s finest publicists, never one to miss an opportunity, were haranguing booze journalists to write about the phenomenon for their respective clients.
Now, almost three weeks later, there are over 25,000 Instagram posts with the hashtag #quarantini. More than just gallows humor during trying times, the hashtag has provided a unifying emblem for drinking in front of your computer, as well as unprecedented insight into how Americans make their cocktails at home.
If the initial Quarantini joke was that “It’s just a regular Martini, but you drink it alone in your house,” most hashtaggers have since taken it in a different direction, stretching the definition of the drink well beyond the bare-bones gin and dry vermouth classic. Some of the internet’s earliest Quarantinis demonstrated a clear focus on merging health-consciousness with getting hammered, like one recipe that marries Aviation Gin and a packet of Emergen-C, but it quickly spun into something different altogether.
Though Quarantinis no longer resemble the two-ingredient cocktail from which they take their name, many still fall comfortably under the elastic ’tini title that encompassed everything from the Appletini to the Lychee Martini in the 1990s. Some opt for grapefruit-flavored vodka or tomato juice, blue Curaçao and chocolate ice cream; others are served in chain restaurant-style Margarita glasses and ceramic pitchers; one is shaken with pickle juice; another with olives (so many olives) and some even use thermometers as cheeky swizzle sticks.
While drinking Quarantinis won’t get you out of isolation and into the bar any quicker, it at least offers reassurance that we’re all in this together, trying to make the best of a crummy situation.
In other words, the Quarantini is whatever you want it to be. So long as it demonstrates a creative effort to get drunk with whatever ingredients you still have on hand.
Though it feels like the product of our current moment, the Quarantini actually entered the public lexicon more than a decade before the outbreak of COVID-19. The term first appeared in a 2005 episode of Scrubs titled “My Quarantine,” and was uttered by Danni Sullivan, a love interest of J.D. (Zach Braff) played by Tara Reid. “Quarantinis, anyone?” she asks the medical staff after the ICU is locked down during a suspected SARS threat. While she was simply suggesting swigs from her flask, on a Scrubs subreddit, users have been taking stabs at elevating the genre.
Shea Serrano, author of a recent collection of Scrubs essays, Where Do You Think We Are?, and a beloved online presence to his 400,000 Twitter followers, believes the Quarantini is proof that the “extremely online [types]” don’t, in fact, enjoy being as isolated from humanity as they regularly claim.
“There’s this running bit about how alone we all like to be and how we’re all introverts who just want to be at home by ourselves making jokes on Twitter or Instagram or watching TikToks or whatever,” he says. “But really, that’s only a thing that’s true for most of us so long as we’re the ones choosing to be alone. Once it becomes something that we have to do, the dynamic changes greatly. We want to be around other people.”
And, while drinking Quarantinis won’t get you out of isolation and into the bar any quicker, it at least offers reassurance that we’re all in this together, trying to make the best of a crummy situation. That’s why there can’t really be a “right” or “wrong” Quarantini. Like the Long Island Iced Tea or Sex on the Beach, it’s not a drink with precise ingredients nor technique, but one meant to evoke a certain feeling. During these uncertain times, that prevailing feeling is: Maybe things will be all right if I just sit here at home and try to relax. That’s where the Quarantini comes in.
“One inspiring thing that we’ve seen during this crisis is an incredible amount of maintaining those connections with family and friends, along with reconnecting with people that we’ve maybe lost touch with in the past,” says Erin Welsh, Ph.D., and Erin Allmann Updyke, Ph.D., the hosts behind This Podcast Will Kill You, a show covering epidemics and medical mysteries. Since the podcast’s inception in 2017, the hosts, who live in different cities, have been kicking off each episode by fixing themselves, yes, a Quarantini, often of their own design, like their most recent invention: a mixture of white wine and pineapple juice.
At a time when many of the nation’s bars are shut down, the Quarantini is an amateur cocktail ne plus ultra; one that has not, as of yet, been monetized. It remains, by and large, a cocktail by the people and for the people.
Nevertheless, the inherent humor of the Quarantini is also starting to wear a bit thin. While there’s no Quarantini subreddit, r/cocktail users have already made so many posts on the subject that eventually a user demanded a moratorium on them. His reasoning seems pretty sound: “Aside from the fact that the joke is played out, it’s also a little insensitive to everyone in the service industry who is out a job thanks to this pandemic.”
But even professional bartenders have started making Quarantinis at home and uploading them to Instagram. Who knows, maybe this pandemic will have the unintended side effect of improving apartment bartending across the board. As Gareth Evans, the global brand ambassador for Absolut Elyx, suggests: “Now is a perfect time to perfect your own recipe in the comfort of your own home.”