The Cocktail Revival in 51 Critical Moments
From the unearthing of important cocktail tomes to the launch of the Chicago Style convention, here are the turning points in the modern, global cocktail continuum.
The happy drinkers of 2018 can get a great Old-Fashioned wherever they go. They can order from a list of 40 artisanal mezcals. Moscow Mules comes in their proper copper mug. And their drinking companion is clearly visible through the perfect, crystalline, 2x2 ice cube in their glass. This didn’t all happen overnight. The cocktail Valhalla we all now live in was a puzzle put together piece by piece over 30 or more years. In 2016, I told the story of that drinking revolution at length in my book, A Proper Drink: How a Band or Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World. Here, I pare it down to 50 critical turning points in the modern, global cocktail continuum—plus, as a sort of epilogue, a 51st, to illustrate how far the industry has come in the last two years since the book came out, as it grapples, in its own way, with the social issues and personal struggles that have dominated headlines and continue to push the hospitality business to be more hospitable to its own and others.
1977: Dick Bradsell arrives in London.
Bradsell, who died in 2016, was the godfather of the London cocktail revival. He was a ne’er-do-well who grew up on the Isle of Wight, the son of a man who worked for the Ministry of Defense. His family was not sorry to see him go, but they did get him his first bartending job, at the Naval and Military Club in London, marking the beginning of his bartending career. He liked it and went on to work at other influential private clubs, such as Soho Brasserie, Fred’s Club and Zanzibar, pictured above. He not only mastered the crafts of bartending and mixology, he began invented new drinks, including such future classics as the Bramble and Vodka Espresso. Soon, he would begin taking younger bartenders under his wing, educating a new generation of UK cocktail bartenders.
C. 1980: Bradsell gets a copy of The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.
Ray Cook was the head bartender at Zanzibar, where Bradsell was a barback looking for a mentor. Cook said everything he knew was from David Embury, an American lawyer who liked to drink a lot, enough to publish a book in 1948. Bradsell would take the book, its recipes and its philosophies to heart. It became the core of his school of cocktail bartending, and thus, arguably—since Bradsell handed down what he learned in Embury to his many apostles—the bedrock of much of the modern school of bartending in the UK to come.
1982: Charles Schumann opens Schumann’s Cocktail Bar in Munich.
Historically, most bars in Germany were connected to hotels. When it opened, Schumann’s was unique in that it was a stand-alone cocktail bar. The bar quickly grew influential, and Schumann would become the dean of German bartenders, influencing the way bartenders worked not only in Germany, but throughout Europe. He also would publish new cocktail books, something nobody else was doing at the time, including Schumann's American Bar Book, published in 1991, and Schumann's Tropical Bar Book. These would further influence budding bartenders in countries beyond Europe.
1982: Thomas Estes opens Café Pacifico in London.
Estes came from California and opened his first restaurant, Café Pacifico, in Amsterdam in 1976. But it was the London one that became significant to the cocktail movement, becoming a gathering point for London bartenders and enthusiasts and introducing many professionals to the wonders of tequila. Estes would only grow as an advocate for agave spirits in London over the decades, holding tequila workshops at the bar, opening many more bars and restaurants and starting his own tequila brand.
1982: Jörg Rupf founds St. George Spirits.
St. George, launched in Alameda, California, was America’s first important craft distiller and laid the groundwork for the craft distilling boom that would follow. Rupf, a lawyer, came from Alsace. He began by making eau de vie from local fruits such as pears and raspberries. He trained and mentored other craft distillers until his retirement in 2010. Today, St. George, under the guidance of Lance Winters, makes just about every kind of spirit you can think of, and it is no longer alone, but is one of hundreds of craft distilleries in the U.S.
1985: Brother Cleve eats at Shorty’s Diner in Cleveland, Ohio.
Cleve was a musician and DJ and performed in bands such as the Del Fuegos and Combustible Edison in the 1980s and ‘90s. On his trips, he’d frequent old restaurants and bars that still served classic cocktails, including Shorty’s Diner in Cleveland. There, wondering at the long list of offered cocktails on the menu, he uttered the immortal question, “What the fuck is a Sidecar?” He began to educate himself, buying old cocktail books and rare spirits. By the late ‘90s, he was recognized as the cocktail king of Boston. He was instrumental in opening the B-Side, the bar that kicked off the Boston scene, and he inspired and taught most of the young mixologists who would lead the Boston cocktail movement.
C. 1986: Absolut Vodka comes to England.
Oliver Peyton was a young club owner when he beat out many competitors to bring Absolut into the UK. His approach to marketing spirits was revolutionary. The UK was not a brand country. Drinkers didn’t call out for specific labels. Peyton changed that. He started a new era of brand consciousness and brand-sponsored cocktail events. He also engaged the bartending population, teaching them how to make Bloody Marys and vodka Martinis, creating a community through competitions and educational events.
1987: The Rainbow Room reopens in New York City.
Dale DeGroff was an actor from Rhode Island who was drafted by legendary restaurateur Joe Baum to create a cocktail list of pre-Prohibition cocktails for the Rainbow Room reboot. DeGroff came through, serving drinks that hadn’t been seen in years. He also curated his back bar, insisting on good spirits, and searching out liquors that had been lost to history or were hard to find. DeGroff’s efforts shed a bright spotlight on mixology, the history of the cocktail and the craft of the bartender. He would become the leader of the cocktail movement in America, mentoring and discovering many budding mixologists over the next 15 years.
1988: Toby Cecchini invents the Cosmopolitan.
Cecchini was a would-be writer from Wisconsin whose first New York bartending job was at Odeon. He created the Cosmo as a kind of shift drink for the staff, working with a recipe for a drink with the same name from San Francisco. The drink slowly but surely spread until it became an international sensation, largely thanks to its high profile Sex and the City. Later on, in the ‘00s, the Cosmo became an object of derision among ambitious bartenders. But it served an important function in the cocktail continuum, acting as a bridge drink between the classic cocktails of the post-war era and the cocktail revival to come. It showed that cocktails could still be news and a relevant drinking option, as well as something that could get the public excited.
C. 1991: Julio Bermejo starts serving the Tommy’s Margarita.
Bermejo was the son of parents who owned a Mexican restaurant in San Francisco who desperately didn’t want to join the family business. He buried himself behind the bar, but eventually took an interest in what was served there. He started improving its tequila selections and educating his customers, as well as re-engineering its house margarita to better spotlight the spirit. The Tommy’s Margarita didn’t have Curacao, used agave syrup and used only 100 percent agave tequila. His advocacy of quality agave spirits turned Tommy’s into an epicenter of the tequila revival and a mecca for curious mixologists over the world.
C. 1991: Ted Haigh gets interested in cocktails.
Haigh was a wondering, gregarious sort who eventually found his niche as an itinerant graphic designer for films. While on location, he would raid old liquor stores in search of defunct spirits he needed to make forgotten cocktails that he found in the old books he collected. His collection of vintage booze and cocktail books and knowledge of cocktails grew along parallel lines. Along the way, he fashioned himself into the cocktail revival’s first layman historian. His work culminated in his 2004 book, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.
1993: Ted Breaux learns about Absinthe.
More than anyone, Breaux spearheaded the absinthe revival. He was a research scientist for the petroleum industry based in Louisiana when he first heard about the defunct spirit from a colleague. Absinthe was still illegal then, or thought to be, and had been for much of the 20th century. He read as much as he could, acquired old bottles, and even tried to make the stuff himself. Eventually, he helped conduct the studies that showed absinthe contained none of the harmful chemical compounds that the U.S. government thought it did—studies that led to its being sold again in the country starting in 2007. He also collaborated on Lucid, the first absinthe brand to hit the U.S. in nearly a century, which made it possible for cocktails to finally be made properly again after all that time.
1993: Straight Up or On the Rocks is published.
William Grimes was a reporter at the New York Times who had written some of the earliest reporting on Dale DeGroff and the Rainbow Room. When a publisher approached him about writing a book on cocktails, the only thing that made sense to him was to write about the whole shebang: the history of the cocktail. No one had attempted a history of the American cocktail in a long while. When the book came out, it was not much noticed, but it laid the groundwork for much cocktail scholarship to come.
1994: Angel’s Share opens in New York City.
The owner of Angel’s Share, who also owned the sushi bar through which you had to travel to get to the secret bar, wanted to created a Tokyo style bar—small, formal and intimate, with an emphasis on ritual and craft. The bar would embody a seriousness of cocktail craft seldom seen in the city, as well as coin such neo-speakeasy hallmarks as a secret entrance, rules of decorum and craft ice. There were no large parties allowed and no standing at the bar. Angel’s Share would greatly influence Sasha Petraske when he opened Milk & Honey six years later.
1994: Dick’s Bar opens in London.
Dick’s Bar was located far inside Oliver Peyton’s sprawling Atlantic Bar & Grill, in the West End of London, with Dick Bradsell at the helm. The Atlantic was different from the rest of London nightlife at the time. It was open later than the pubs, it was not stuffy and old-fashioned like the hotel bars, and it was not private like many of the chic drinking clubs Bradsell had worked at. It also put cocktails front and center, not only by hiring Bradsell, but by naming the interior bar after him. That made Bradsell a celebrity, though he only ended up staying at the Atlantic for six months. Many point to the official opening as the beginning of the London cocktail renaissance.
1995: Ron Cooper founds Del Maguey.
Cooper was an artist who lived in New Mexico and liked to visit Mexico. While there, he became familiar with some of the small distillers who made mezcal in the old, traditional, painstaking method—the sort of mezcals that never made it beyond the immediate vicinity. He made it his side mission to bring them to the United States, where mezcal was dimly known as tequila’s rough cousin, the stuff with the worm in the bottle. His efforts would do a lot to revive mezcal’s fortunes and reputation in the U.S. and the world, and lead to the mezcal craze we know today. Last year, Pernod Ricard bought Del Maguey.
1996: Pravda opens in New York City.
Most restaurateurs and chefs in NYC, as well as in other cities, were either dismissive of or outright hostile to the cocktail revival in the early days. When mixologists received press attention, a rivalry emerged between the bar and kitchen, often leading to the bartender being fired. Keith McNally became one of first NYC restaurateurs to embrace cocktails. He hired Dale DeGroff as a consultant to train his staff at his fancy vodka bar Pravda, and, later, Balthazar. Future cocktail leaders Dushan Zaric and Jason Kosmas (Employees Only) cut their teeth there. Today, no restaurateur or chef opens a bar without making sure there is a good cocktail list and a good bar director.
1997: Class Magazine is launched in the UK.
Simon Difford was a wholesale and retail liquor supplier and liquor store owner when he decided to found a magazine dedicated to the growing bar and cocktail culture that he was seeing around him. Envisioning a GQ for bartenders, he helped create a new tradition of cocktail writing in the UK, and to organize a scattershot bartender community in London and the UK. His example would be followed by Germany and Australia, which soon after got their own trade magazines dedicated to cocktail bartending.
1998: Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century is published.
Paul Harrington was a San Francisco bartender with a knowledge of classic cocktails and of cocktail history. He worked at Enrico’s, a North Beach restaurant and bar where the staffers at Wired, a new magazine at the time, hung out. He began to write an online column for Hotwired.com, the first ever website for a magazine. The column, which was called CocktailTime.com, tackled one old cocktail at a time. It was eventually converted into a book, Cocktail, which was published by Viking in 1998 and was a rare look at classic cocktails from a historical perspective. The book found its way into the hands of curious bartenders from around the world, who were shown, through its pages, another way to look at the drinks they were making.
1998: Robert Hess starts the DrinkBoy website.
More than any other site, DrinkBoy connected cocktail geeks from all over the world. Hess was an IT guy in the Seattle area who worked for Microsoft and had an enthusiast’s interest in cocktails. He created Drinkboy to have a place to discuss the arcane art of mixology and connect with the few other cocktail geeks that were out there in the world. Future leaders like Gary Regan, Audrey Saunders and David Wondrich chimed in at a time when cocktail people had few ways of connecting with one another. Hess, in time, fashioned himself into an early authority of the cocktail movement.
1998: Absinthe opens in San Francisco.
Absinthe was the first modern cocktail bar in San Francisco to offer a historically oriented menu of pre-Prohibition cocktails. That menu was the work of Marcovaldo Dionysos, a bartender who honed his craft in Portland before decamping to San Francisco. Dionysos had a library of old, out-of-print cocktail books and mined it to create the program at Absinthe. Every drink was annotated with a brief history of the cocktail in question—the first time that was ever done. Many point to Absinthe’s opening as the beginning of the San Francisco cocktail revival.
1998: Jeff Berry’s first writings on tiki drinks are published.
Berry was a California native who worked in the film industry as a director and writer of advertising copy. He was bit early on by the tiki bug and spent his youth hanging around in dilapidated old tiki bars trying to wrestle the drink recipes out of the old bartenders. He eventually secured enough of these, as well as scraps of tiki history, to start publishing books. The first one was published by Slave Labor, which was known for comic books. More books followed. The information in these volumes did more than anything to rescue tiki culture from the dust heap of history, and get young mixologists to pay attention and respect to this genre of drink, leading to the current tiki revival.
1998: The Liquor Control Reform Act is passed in Melbourne.
Owing to a long series of civic misfortunes, Melbourne didn’t have a great drinking culture for much of the 20th century. But that all changed with the passage of this law, which was meant mainly to pave the way for the opening of a casino. A byproduct of the legislation, however, was a boom in small bar openings on Melbourne’s many neglected laneways, remaking the cocktail landscape in that city. Among the first was Gin Palace, opened by Vernon Chalker, who had the radical idea to open a bar dedicated to gin drinks when everyone else was drinking vodka.
1999: David Wondrich starts writing for Esquire.
Wondrich was a comp lit professor at a college on Staten Island, and former would-be rock star, when a friend at Esquire asked him if he would write a few things about cocktails for the magazine’s online arm. Wondrich said yes and Esquire liked what they read. This would lead to more assignments and eventually a steady gig at Esquire that would last until 2016. In fairly short time, he would become cocktaildom’s foremost historian.
1999: Sasha Petraske opens Milk & Honey in New York City.
The most innovative and influential cocktail bar in modern history happened almost by accident. Petraske was New York born, an aimless iconoclast and former Marine who dreamed of opening a coffee house. That slowly evolved into a cocktail bar concept, which opened with money borrowed from friends. Many of the earmarks of the place that became famous grew out of his eccentric personality and the exigencies of the Lower East Side real estate that he secured, including: no name on the building; no phone number; reservations needed; no menu; rules of etiquette; drinks decided based upon conversations with the bartender; candlelight; jazz music; cucumber water; fancy dress for bartenders; and, most of all, a focus on cocktails as opposed to other intoxicants. It kicked off the speakeasy trend, for better and worse, and dozens of other trends as well, and influenced thousands of bartenders worldwide.
2000: Milk & Honey serves drinks with custom ice.
As with Sasha Petraske’s other innovations, this one was born out of necessity. Not having room for an ice machine at his bar, he began freezing water in large pans and making his own large cubes. He cut blocks for rocks drinks and spears for Collins. They were jewels in a world of crappy frozen water. The ice caught people’s attention. It was quickly copied by many other bars until ice became as discussed a component in cocktails as much as anything else. Today, Kold-Draft and Scotsman machines are common, large scale ice molds can be bought at K-mart, and there are companies dedicated to nothing but custom-ice creation and delivery.
2002: Milk & Honey opens in London.
Jonathan Downey was a Manchester native and corporate lawyer, who made a ton of money and parlayed that into a slew of London bars. When he visited Milk & Honey while on a fluke bar crawl with Dale DeGroff, he saw an opportunity. There was nothing like it in London. He convinced Sasha Petraske to open a branch there. The London M&H was the New York one on steroids. Five stories, multiple bars, memberships. But it was like nothing London has seen and had an influence on the city’s drinking culture just as the NYC one did on NYC drinking culture.
2002: Ann Rogers founds Tales of the Cocktail.
Rogers was a marketing person and a native of New Orleans who began a walking tour of the city’s historic bars in 2002 and convinced Southern Comfort to sponsor it. A year later, she expanded her tour into a day-long event called Tales of the Cocktail, held at the Hotel Monteleone. The convention grew each year. By 2007, it functioned as a major point of connection for bartenders from around the world, and became a must-attend event for anyone connected to the cocktail world. Countless careers and connections have been made at Tales, and the event inspired dozens of other cocktails conventions in cities across the world.
2002: Plymouth Gin hires a brand ambassador.
Nick Blacknell, a marketing master, was hired to restore the fortunes of Plymouth, a small gin brand with a rich heritage but little modern presence. He hired Simon Ford, a cheeky young British bartender from Bath, to represent the product and launch it in America. Unlike the liquor salesmen that preceded him, Ford took a different approach, offering to school bartenders on the category of gin, and selling them on the value of their own profession. Soon, he was flying American bartenders to London and the Plymouth distillery, hosting elaborate dinners and fostering all sorts of community-building efforts. Within a few years, Plymouth’s sales were up from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand and the gin was found in the best bars across America. For better or worse, the era of the liquor brand ambassador had begun.
2003:Julie Reiner opens Flatiron Lounge in New York City.
Julie Reiner, a Hawaiian who earned her bartending chops in San Francisco, opened, with her partners, the first mass-market, craft-cocktail bar in New York. Many time-saving methods, such as combining liquors in one bottle to lessen the work required to build a cocktail, and the use of cheater bottles (small bottles full of seldom-used ingredients, kept within easy reach on the bar), began here. Reiner was also among the first to promote and encourage female mixologists at a time when the cocktail community was very much a boy’s club, both at Flatiron and her subsequent bars, Clover Club and Leyenda.
2003: Greg Boehm starts collecting old cocktail books.
Boehm was a scion of a publishing house, his grandfather having founded Sterling Books. His father bought the U.S. rights to the cocktail books of Salvatore Calabrese. Inspired, Boehm began collecting out-of-print cocktail books from before and just after Prohibition, through antiquarian booksellers and eventually eBay, amassing 600 volumes. In 2007, he began reissuing new editions of the old cocktail books in his possession, beginning with six, including Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks. Volumes of recipes and bartending instruction were suddenly returned to the greater bartending community. The library of mixology was restored.
2003: A Jerry Thomas tribute is held.
Jerry Thomas, the father of American mixology, was still a dimly known figure in 2003 when a group of bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts decided to hold a tribute at the Plaza Hotel in New York. The event, on March 3, was organized by David Wondrich, and involved every person who mattered at all in the small American cocktail world, including Dale DeGroff, Sasha Petraske, Gary Regan, Audrey Saunders, Ted Haigh, and Robert Hess, all making a drink from Thomas’ book. The event was written up in the New York Times and helped to establish the notion that there might be something to this cocktail movement after all.
2003: LeNell Smothers opens a liquor store in Brooklyn.
Smothers was an irascible Alabaman who decided to focus on bourbon and rye and some of the more esoteric ingredients that she knew young bartenders were looking for. She had bitters, she had Amaro, she had odd liqueurs, she has cachaca, she had everything. Her store was at the end of the earth, in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Nonetheless, it quickly established itself as mecca for mixology and a destination for anyone interested in cocktails. Though LeNell’s lasted a mere six years, it set a standard in inventory for many boutique liquor stores to come. (Smothers recently reopened her store in Birmingham.)
2003: Murray Stenson begins serving the Last Word.
Stenson, a veteran Seattle bartender, found the forgotten cocktail in an old cocktail book called Bottoms Up. It had a bunch of things people weren’t drinking then, including maraschino liqueur and Chartreuse. He tested it, liked it, and began serving it at the Zig Zag Café in Seattle. News of the drink spread through the bartender grapevine in various ways, soon reaching New York. It became a hip-pocket cocktail for in-the-know bartenders, and soon swept the world—one of the first big success stories in terms of lost drinks being restored to currency.
2004: Eric Seed forms a small importing concern.
Seed, a mild-mannered Minnesotan, began his spirits importing career with an Alpine pine liqueur, selling it to the Colorado market. He developed a novel sales approach different from most liquor importers. Instead of telling bartenders, “This is what we’ve got,” he asked bartenders what they wanted or needed. They were happy to tell him. This led him to eventually import or outright revive dozens of forgotten spirits, including Swedish Punch, Batavia Arrack, crème de violette, old tom gin and allspice dram, leading to the rebirth of many old cocktails that required these ingredients. With Seed setting the example for other companies and distillers, most elixirs that had vanished over the decades were returned to the back bar.
2004: Cedd Moses opens the Golden Gopher.
Moses, the son of artist Ed Moses and a drinking buddy of poet Charles Bukowski, had an incredible brain and talent with numbers. He used that brain first to handicap horse races and then make a bundle in mutual funds and hedge funds. Once tired of that, he used his money to began buying real estate in dilapidated downtown Los Angeles, and started opening up bars, beginning with the Golden Gopher. Seven Grand helped establish the cocktail scene in LA, and The Varnish, a collaboration with Sasha Petraske, kicked it into high gear.
2004: Tony Conigliaro begins aging cocktails.
Conigliaro was an art student who became an apprentice of Dick Bradsell, working and consulting at bars like Match, Detroit, and the Lonsdale. He earned further attention at Oliver Peyton’s Isola, where he began experimenting with more complex cocktails. He eventually opened his own bar, 69 Colebrooke Row, in Islington, opening a lab called The Drinks Factory upstairs, where he would test and perfect cocktails over weeks, months and years. One of these techniques was to age cocktails in glass. It was a trick that was picked up by American bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who used barrels instead of glass, which made the process go much faster, and made the barrel-aged cocktail a worldwide phenomenon.
2005: Pegu Club opens in New York City.
Audrey Saunders, a protégé of Dale DeGroff, opened this New York bar with Julie Reiner and her partners from the Flatiron Lounge, and an all-star line-up of bartenders including Toby Maloney, Phil Ward, Brian Miller, Jim Meehan and Jim Kearns (all of whom would go on to open their own influential bars). Their adherence to standards, the precision of the cocktails, the skill of the crew, the savvy nature of the customers and the attention of the media immediately established Pegu as a turning point in the New York cocktail revival, with the movement finally coalescing into something serious and permanent.
2005: Dave Arnold is hired at the French Culinary Institute.
Arnold was not a chef or a scientist. He was a hobbyist and mad-scientist who like to experiment with things like rotovaps and liquid nitrogen to see if he could improve or change the form of flavor of food and beverages. In time, he became best known for his work with cocktails more than anything else, transforming into mixology’s own boyish Mr. Wizard, the person you went to with weird questions and requests. When he opened his own bar, Booker and Dax, he put into practice all the experimental procedures he had been working on for years. His influence can be seen in dozens of little touches and improvements in bars across the world.
2005: Gary Regan creates an orange bitters.
Many old cocktail recipes called for orange bitters, which, in the early ‘00s, were not made anymore, save by a small company in Rochester, New York, called Fee Brothers and one or two others. Regan, a former bartender and writer, began experimenting with the recipe he found in Jerry Thomas’ book until he got it to a point he liked. Eventually, he entered into an agreement with the Sazerac Company, which made Peychaud’s Bitters, to bottle and market the bitters. A hungry bartending community embraced it as one of the only orange bitters out there. A boom in bitters production would follow, leading to hundreds of new ones.
2006: BAR is formed.
An acronym for Beverage Alcohol Resource, BAR was comprised of six early leaders in the cocktail revival: Dale DeGroff, Doug Frost, Steve Olson, Paul Pacult, Andy Seymour and David Wondrich. It was an educational organization, and began holding five-day, intensive spirits and cocktail education courses, and quickly became an imperative for serious minded bartenders. It later morphed into BarSmarts, an abridged, traveling version of the program that was backed by the liquor giant Pernod Ricard. Over the years, BAR and Bar Smarts has schooled hundreds of cocktail bartenders in the U.S.
2007: David Wondrich publishes Imbibe!
Wondrich was growing frustrated with the lack of consensus in all the old information being thrown around in cocktail circles. There was no settled, accepted authority on anything. He decided to embark on the most exhaustive history of the American art of cocktails ever printed, using Jerry Thomas’s 1862 bartending guide as a jumping off point, and examining and testing every cocktail found in its pages. He dug into old newspapers and databases. After working on it for years and trying to find a publisher who cared about such a work, it was finally published in 2007 by Perigee. It almost immediately became a required text for aspiring bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts. It remains the most important book on cocktails and bartenders to be published during the renaissance.
2007: Eben Freeman opens Tailor in NYC.
Freeman was a native New Yorker and career bartender who slowly but surely learned the cocktail trade, most notably as the head bartender at WD-50, Wylie Dufresne’s famed New York City restaurant. There, he became one of the leading lights in the so-called molecular mixology movement. In 2007, he teamed up with chef Sam Mason to open Tailor in SoHo. Many bartending trends that took hold in the years to come began with Freeman, including draft cocktails, cocktails involving smoke as an ingredient, and fat-washed cocktails. The bar only lasted two years, but its impact is still felt.
2008: Liquor Licensing laws change in Sydney.
Sydney’s bar scene prior to 2008 was marked by large, splashy places owned by huge restaurant conglomerates. This was due to the liquor licenses being so expensive that only corporations could afford them, leaving Sydney far behind its sister city Melbourne in terms of cocktail innovation. The change in the law caused a boom in so-called small bars, more of them in subterranean spaces and with hard-to-find entrances, including soon famous spots like Bulletin Place and Baxter Inn. Today, Sydney’s bar scene is neck and neck with Melbourne’s.
2008: The Connaught Bar opens in London.
While some London hotel bars, like the Duke Bar and the American Bar at the Savoy, had kept the cocktail tradition alive in London, by and large hotel bars remained stuffy places trapped in the past. The owners of the Connaught invested in a renovation to reverse that trend, and hired a few mixologist hotshots to make it happen, including Erik Lorincz and Agostino Perrone (pictured). They brought modern mixology and bartending standards to the Connaught, the opening of which marked a renewal in London’s hotel bar culture, and, eventually led other cities and hotel corporations to look at their hotel bars.
2010: David Wondrich publishes Punch.
Wondrich published another book and it, too, becomes a textbook for the movement. Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl, was actually made up of stuff that was cut from Imbibe. At the time, punch was a fuddy-duddy drink—a home entertaining item associated with dull parties given by one’s parents or grandparents. There had been some movement in this area at certain bars, including the Hawksmoor in London and Death & Co in New York, which was inspired by the Hawsksmoor. That notwithstanding, the book almost single handedly revived interest in the historical, large-form beverage (which is the mother of the American cocktail), causing bars across the world to put punches on their menus.
2011: The casual cocktail bar is born.
With the opening of Mother’s Ruin in NYC, Prizefighter in Emeryville and others like them, cocktail bars began to venture into more casual territory. The early years of the cocktail revival concentrated on bartenders bringing respectability and dignity back to their profession. Part of that was dressing the part, as bartenders had in the 19th century, and adopting a serious air about one’s work. The vested bartenders at Milk & Honey and Pegu Club were the models. This had been necessary at the time to communicate intentions to the public and the media. But as the cocktail revival took hold, bartenders, and patrons as well, desired bars that felt friendlier and looser, while still retaining culinary standards in the drinks. A more casual vibe soon became the prevailing model for the next generation of cocktail bars.
2011: Speed Rack is founded.
Speed Rack was a cocktail competition put together by bartenders Lynnette Morrero and Ivy Mix that had a dual purpose: one, to shine a spotlight on the many talented female bartenders across the United States by showcasing their skills; two, to raise money for breast cancer research, education and prevention. The effort was greatly needed. The cocktail movement did not lack for talented women bartenders, but (as this list partly illustrates), they were not often given positions of authority and power. Probably more than anything else, Speed Rack has helped raise awareness of the role of women in the cocktail revival.
2011: The 50 Best Bars list launches.
This annual list was concocted by a London magazine called Drinks International as a sort of bookend to the 50 Best Restaurants List. It quickly picked up steam, until its tally was carefully watched and anticipated by prominent cocktails bars the world over every year. The list changed the way cocktail bars were evaluated and how they competed with one another. Bars openly campaigned for spots on the list and trumpeted their positions when they were achieved. Landing on the list could result in increasing business and a larger profile for the owners and bartenders. It has arguably led to a business climate where status, fame and visibility mean as much or more than creativity and service.
2012: White Lyan opens in London.
Perhaps the most innovative new cocktail bar of the past 10 years, White Lyan was opened by Ryan Chetiyawardana, who formerly worked with Tony Conigliaro. Chetiyawardana was forward-thinking in many ways: commissioning his own spirits; premixing drinks so as to eliminate the showy aspect of bartending and cut down on wait time; selling bottled cocktails; and working to eliminate waste from the equation of running a bar. Many of these practices are now being addressed by other bars, particularly the matter of sustainability.
2018: Chicago Style Convention is founded.
The reckoning: The bar world is not immune to the socials ills that plague the rest of society, including sexism, racism, sexual assault and a lack of diversity; and the lifestyle of feckless hedonism practiced, and tacitly endorsed, by many of the cocktail world’s leaders is ultimately unsustainable and, in some instances, deadly. Beginning in 2016, a series of alarms bells alerted the cocktail community to the long-simmering fact that the hospitality business wasn’t terribly hospitable to its own. The biggest clang of all was the astounding and amazing sudden collapse in 2017 of Tales of the Cocktail, the very tentpole of the whole movement. Ann and Paul Tuennerman, the founders, exited the organization following accusations of racial insensitivity. By 2018, the event was under new management and struggling to mend fences. Chicago Style, which was founded by three women and debuted in May 2018, was the anti-Tales, with a conscientious focus on the social and environmental issues that bars are now finally wrestling with. (The matter of the near complete co-opting of the cocktail movement by Big Liquor, another festering ill, seems to have been tabled for now.) Whether industry leaders right the Good Ship Cocktail and avoid the iceberg in time remains to be seen. But the age of innocence is certainly over.