Two decades ago, when a Manhattan or Martini graced a bar’s menu, it was a sure signifier of the seriousness of the house cocktail program. The spartan formulas of these first-tier classics were among the earliest to be rescued by the modern cocktail revival. Their inherent austerity and sophistication stood in stark contrast to the flamboyance of the disco drinks and club calls that preceded their return—the fluorescent rainbow of Midori Sours, Blue Hawaiis and Appletinis. The latter became little more than punchlines to jokes told over Old-Fashioneds and Sazeracs.
Over the years, however, bartenders trawling for fresh recipes to rejigger turned to B-list cocktails, like the once-obscure Martinez, Last Word and Aviation, and even C-list numbers like the Blood & Sand or the Silver Stallion, to revitalize their menus. Today, the cocktail renaissance has come full circle, and even the drinks that once occupied the lowest rung on the cocktail ladder have become menu mainstays—all thanks to the ingenuity of our bartenders who saw, in the mesmerizing ombre effect of the Tequila Sunrise or the simplicity of the 7&7, something worth rescuing.