Thanks to the resurgence of disco, blue drinks and kitschy ’tinis, much of today’s drinking landscape looks oddly familiar. The Appletini is arguably the face of this nostalgic trend, with modern takes popping up at new bars across the country. Hard-hitting and Technicolor, these vibrant cocktails almost demand to be seen.
But the ’90s were home to a more muted class of cocktails, too, ones that, while not necessarily as reached for and rescued today, have had a lasting impact on bartending methods around the world.
This was the era that brought us the Breakfast Martini, a 1996 cocktail by London-based Italian bartender Salvatore Calabrese. The gin drink took inspiration from, fittingly, a breakfast of orange marmalade and toast, and its inclusion of preserves was so novel at the time that Cocktail Kingdom publisher Greg Boehm described it as a “revelation.”
In fact, solving for the sweet element that plagued the saccharine drinks of the 1980s is what catapulted several other modern classics to stardom. Consider the California-born Tommy’s Margarita, which was the first instance of agave syrup subbed in for the tequila classic’s expected orange liqueur.
Other pioneering bartenders took the classics and spun them in a new direction, layering them with more depth of flavor. The Cable Car reimagined the Sidecar with a base of spiced rum instead of Cognac and incorporated cinnamon into the typical sugar rim. Meanwhile, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry brought a small measure of allspice dram to the tropical Navy Grog to create the Ancient Mariner. While these ’90s drinks looked to spice, others, like the Jasmine, turned to bitter aperitivo for added complexity, transforming the lime- and Angostura bitters–laced Pegu Club into a lemon- and Campari-tinged drink that reads like a grown-up Cosmopolitan. The Añejo Highball, meanwhile, offered a lesson in restraint in its simple combination of rum, Curaçao, lime juice and ginger beer.
The revived drinks trending at bars today are highly caffeinated, high octane or highlighter green, but the other ’90s drinks are slowly starting to show face. At trans-Atlantic steakhouse Hawksmoor, the recently launched “Second Golden Age” menu celebrates these lesser-known iconic cocktails, including the Breakfast Martini. Their version exchanges the marmalade for apricot jam and incorporates Singani 63, a Bolivian brandy, for “a floral lift,” according to Hawksmoor bar manager Adam Montgomerie. “Hawksmoor menus have often looked to the classics for inspiration, and this section of the menu felt especially right for NYC,” he says.
In a city in the midst of a ’tini renaissance, maybe it’s time for the Breakfast Martini to shine, too.