Six Classic Midcentury Cocktails

Though left to collect dust for the past few decades, the cocktails made popular during the midcentury were once symbols of glamour and good taste. Here are six classics, renewed for a new era of fashionable drinking.

Stinger: A high society favorite. [Recipe]

El Presidente: Cuba by way of the West Village. [Recipe]

Moscow Mule: How Hollywood did cocktail hour. [Recipe] [Photo: Ed Anderson]

Singapore Sling: One of the great 20th-century thirst quenchers. [Recipe]

Brown Derby: A Sunset Strip staple. [Recipe]

Greyhound: The original vodka highball. [Recipe]

While many of the drinks that became staples of the midcentury were created well before it, its standbys—from the minty Stinger to the bourbon-spiked Brown Derby—undoubtedly bring to mind the era of classic finger foods, lavish party dresses and silver screen glamour.

The crowned queen of the era is undoubtedly the Moscow Mule, which was created in the early 1940s and became something of a cultural phenomenon, inspiring the iconic copper mule mug and a new genre of cocktail party, dubbed “Mule Parties.” Another vodka staple of the era, the Greyhound, while much maligned in current pop culture (thanks, mostly, to a little something called the canned cocktail) is still one of the great highball drinks in the canon when made with fresh juice.

In classic 1950s spring-break style, the Singapore Sling welcomes warmer weather with a wink at tiki, combining gin and cherry brandy with a variety of fresh tropical juices, while the El Presidente embraces the spirit most associated with midcentury mischief: rum. It remains an ode to the days when Hollywood regularly decamped for Havana.

Many of the drinks we now associate with the 1940s, 50s and 60s owe their link to film, including the Stinger—a somewhat unorthodox combination of crème de menthe and cognac—which was launched to fame by Cary Grant in the 1957 film, Kiss Them For Me, when he declared, “Stingers, keep them coming.”

And while it may not have the silver screen cred of the Stinger, the Brown Derby—a mix of bourbon, grapefruit and honey—still has Hollywood chops. It was created at celebrity Sunset Strip haunt, the Vendôme Club, which was owned by Hollywood Reporter founder and playboy Billy Wilkerson, and was sipped by the likes of Mary Pickford and Lana Turner.

So if you’re looking for a slightly more sophisticated take on spring break—away from the Jose Cuervo boilermakers and yards of your youth—grab a pair of oversized sunglasses, and make like a midcentury celebrity. And keep the Stingers coming.

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