Famous cocktails: from silver screen to bars and clubs

If you think about famous cocktails from movies or TV shows which one springs to mind: vodka martini from some James Bond movie, Cosmopolitan from Sex and the City, White Russian from The Big Lebowski or maybe Old Fashioned from Mad Men?

Cocktails have been present in the Hollywood movies for a long long time, but let’s look at cocktails as brands. Not as the real brands with brand managers, but as extras from the movies which can promote the movie or even become legendary or cult cocktails.

For example: in the movie The Big Lebowski the main character Dude (played by Jeff Bridges) constantly drinks White Russians or Caucasians, as he calls them. The Big Lebowski was not a huge box office success with $17 million domestic gross, but eventually attracted a cult following. There are Lebowski fests, where you can find other fans, go bowling or drink White Russians.

The Big Lebowski - White Russian Recipe T-Shirt


The other notable example is TV show Sex and the City which made fashion designer Manolo Blahnik a household name. However Blahnik wasn’t the only product/brand associated with New York’s famous four. In almost all episodes we could’ve seen Carrie using her Mac and the girls very often drank Cosmopolitans. Girls were shown in some hip lounge, bar or restaurant with cocktails in hand. And suddenly the viewers were aware of Cosmopolitans and the popularity of this cocktail reached new highs.

“The show definitely helped. It created a heightened awareness” said Julie Reiner, co-owner of two of New York City’s finest cocktail bars, the Flatiron Lounge and the Pegu Club (the quote is from the book The Business of Spirits by Noah Rothbaum). Additionally it also dismissed any impression that cocktails were just for men. Cosmopolitan became so synonymous with the SATC that HBO’s website sold a martini glass, perfect for a cosmo, with the show’s logo. Rothbaum stated in his book that at that time (around 2000) it was hard to find a bar that wasn’t offering a cosmo or some other martini variation. Anything served in a martini glass was awarded the -tini suffix, no matter how untraditional the recipe.

Cosmopolitan in Sex and the City (1999, HBO, screen capture)


White Russian from The Big Lebowski and Cosmopolitan from Sex and the City are not the only famous cocktails from movies or TV series that were successful in bars or clubs. To get a better insight into the most famous cocktails from the movies I’ve asked three experts from the »cocktail field« to give their opinion about that topic.

Experts, who provided their opinion, exclusively for Brand & Films, are:


Which is the most famous cocktail from a movie or a TV show?

William Garver: “When I think of a movie cocktail, the first name that inevitably springs to mind is ‘The Alaskan Polar Bear Heater‘ from Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor (1963). The recipe is disgusting (if you try to make it, skip the vinegar) and it is likely improvised (Lewis asks the bartender to add “some more scotch” despite the fact that no previous scotch was used). It is a drink sure to put hair on your chest, if you like that sort of thing.”

Zander L. Hansen: “The most famous cocktail must be the Martini, but it is important to remember which group of people you ask, and where in the world you ask. Where a Tom Collins and similar drinks are popular in the US, people in Europe may know the drink through television, but don’t drink it themselves.”

Cheryl Charming: “Film: Vodka Martini in Bond films, TV: Cosmopolitan in Sex in the City, Music: Margarita from Jimmy Buffet and Piña Colada from Rupert Holmes.”


Which cocktail had the most notable or prominent role in a single movie or in a TV show?

William Garver: “In The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947), a poetic bartender named Jake (Edgar Kennedy) creates a special cocktail for a new customer (Harold Lloyd) who has never drank a drop of alcohol in his life. The cocktail, ‘The Diddlebock,’ (named after the customer) gives the recipient the courage to change his life for the better and realize his dreams. The whole plot is dependent on this one magical drink, and the scene of the concoction’s creation is the funniest, most magnificent mixology scene in movie history, thanks to the writing of the late, great Preston Sturges.”

Zander L. Hansen: “The most famous must be a Martini, and that’s only because of the James Bond movies. This is also a phenomenon you see with other old fashion cocktails, which has been used/shown in now older movies and series.

In the TV business it is clearly a Cosmopolitan. Through Sex and The City Skyy vodka quickly made Cosmopolitan a very popular cocktail. But not only in the US, also overseas. In Europe and Scandinavia people drink more sweater drinks then overseas, so when the Cosmo came, together with the TV show it quickly became a worldwide famous cocktail.”

Cheryl Charming: “Film: Vodka Martini in Bond films and White Russian in The Big Lebowski, TV: Cosmopolitan in Sex in the City.”

Dude (Jeff Bridges) is making White Russian in The Big Lebowski (1998, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, screen capture)


Which cocktail made the best transition from a movie/TV show to “real life” (to bars, clubs …)?

William Garver: “The Vesper has transitioned nicely from the pages of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and from the movie of the same title to actual barrooms.”

Zander L. Hansen: “This is a hard one to answer. Probably Cosmopolitan, but in the old days it would have been a Manhattan. A good info for you, the original Martini is made with gin, but after the James Bond movies, it was become standard in many places to make it with vodka instead.”

Cheryl Charming: “Film: Mojito from Die Another Day and Vodka Martini from Bond films, TV: Cosmopolitan from Sex in the City and Lemondrop Martini from the Oprah Show, Music: Rum & Coke from Rum and Coca Cola by Andrew Sisters, Piña Colada from Rupert Holmes and Hennessey & Coke from various rap singers.”


Which is your favorite movie cocktail?

William Garver: “It’s ‘The Diddlebock’ by a mile. If you’ve never seen The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, your soused cinema credentials are sorely lacking.”

Zander L. Hansen: “My personal favorite cocktail is an Espresso Martini or a Ginger Martini, but if I had to choose one of the movie cocktails it would be a Whisky Sour.”

Cheryl Charming: “To drink: Sazerac from State of the Union (1949) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Pink Champagne Cocktail from An Affair to Remember. Favourite scenes: Dolce de Leche (Milk Punch) from Guys and Dolls, Martini from Seven Year Itch, Manhattan from Some Like it Hot, Martini from Auntie Mame, Tom Collins from Meet the Fockers, Vesper from Casino Royale and Fuzzy Navel from Shrek The Third.”


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William T. Garver aka ‘garv’ is a cinema enthusiast who has shared his knowledge of cocktail-related film since 2006 through feature articles in Modern Drunkard Magazine. He is also the creator of Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide, a popular movie review website that explores the role alcohol has played in motion pictures from the silent era to the present day.

Zander Lauritzen Hansen is a bartender with more than seven years of experience. He’s a co-owner and contributor to the international bartender website Drinksmeister which has domains in different countries and is dedicated to spreading news about drinks & cocktails and helping other bartenders to make the perfect cocktail. He blogs about the latest trends, news, new products and his own creations.

Cheryl Charming a.k.a. ‘Miss Charming’ has been collecting drink seen in film since she first started tending bar. She is the annual Cocktail Film Fest host held in New Orleans each spring and maintains the Cocktail Cinema Facebook group. You can also check her website Miss Charming or follow her on Twitter

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