The only thing I liked about growing up in the 1980s was the abundance of opportunity for rebellion. I hated the politics. I hated the clothes. When my classmates were clamoring to get the latest pair of acid-washed jeans or tickets for a Bon Jovi show, I was skipping school to protest apartheid and trading Grateful Dead bootleg cassettes.
But I’d be lying if I said I hated the classic cocktails associated with the era (though most of them were invented well before the clock struck midnight on January 1, 1980). I was a teenager back then—I’d drink anything. Who was I to turn down a Long Island iced tea? An amaretto sour? Who was I to decline some neon-blue beverage glowing at me at a party? I did, however, draw the line at the Slippery Nipple—even now, I cringe as I write the words—because the only thing that grossed me out more than its name was the mortifying glee my mother took in ordering it expressly to gross me out.
As I matured—as a person, as a drinker and as a bartender—I watched those cocktails fall out of favor, especially when bars with huge arsenals of bitters, syrups and garnishes began to proliferate. As for the faux speakeasies that also started appearing in big cities, a few made the experience entertaining, but to most I wanted to say, “Prohibition is over, so don’t make me feel like an idiot, standing in the cold and knocking on an unmarked door for 10 minutes.” The gravitas with which some bars and bartenders approached their craft started to feel dangerously close to joylessness. But there’s a backlash underway against the idea that there’s such a thing as a correct order at a cocktail bar, and I’m witnessing a turn toward unabashed pleasure.