James Bond had his shaken-not-stirred martinis; The Dude had his White Russians and Carrie Bradshaw had her Cosmopolitans. In this day when our Facebook profiles precede us, it’s nice to have a signature that captures our three-dimensional selves. Hairstyles, clothes and scents help to define our styles, but I say drink orders are the window to the soul. Bartenders glean a lot from a person’s drink order: how well he’ll tip, if he’s likely to get a second date and if he ordered a Manhattan but really wanted a strawberry daiquiri. What you choose from the bar reveals a lot to the company you’re with too—think twice before you order a Sex on the Beach at your office happy hour.
I’ve left a wake of sugary, salty, hungover destruction in my search for a signature cocktail. My drinks during “The Wonder Years”—not counting the vouvray at a chateau in France which, clearly, was an outlier that set me up with nowhere to go but down—were all sickeningly sweet. Wine coolers, vodka mixed with strawberry-kiwi Snapple and shots of Southern Comfort with lime juice were all in my rotation. In college, I had a fling with Amaretto Sours and even learned how to tie the cherry stem into a knot with my tongue. So classy.
In New York, I loved dirty martinis until one bartender asked me, on a scale of one to 10, just how dirty I liked it. Vodka gimlets were soon to follow, but because I liked them with freshly squeezed lime juice instead of Rose’s Lime Cordial, I felt too high maintenance ordering them (and could drink far too many of them). I flirted with beer, but felt unladylike slugging from a bottle. Around then, flavored vodkas hit the scene big time, and I had a long relationship with Absolut Mandarin with soda and a lime. It was clear, unoffensive and completely pointless. Was that what I had become?
When I asked some friends about their signature drinks, it seemed that the men now drink the drinks that their fathers did, while the women choose more self-consciously, considering a drink’s calories, image and whether a spill would stain their white jeans. Shouldn’t drinking be more carefree than that? Some people focused on the sensual side—the clinking sound of a single ice cube in a low-ball glass—while others used their order as a gauge for the talent of the bartender (“If he doesn’t know what a French 75 is, I know to stick with beer”).
I’ve always dreamed of sidling up to the bar and saying, “Scotch on the rocks” the same way I’ve always dreamed of jumping into a cab and shouting, “Grand Central Station and step on it!” Unfortunately, I think that Scotch tastes like Band-Aids and I’ve never been in that big of a rush to get to Grand Central. Perhaps we switch drinks to switch identities. Champagne? You’re effortlessly chic and make magic from monotony. Beer? You’re easy-going. Long Island Iced Tea? You’re out to get trashed. Bloody Mary? You’re looking for sympathy. Bourbon? You’re going to drink several and then brood in the corner. Gin? You’re going to get angry.
When I used to travel, I loved to dress up and head to the fanciest hotel in the city for a drink at the bar. In London, I ordered a Pimm’s Cup at the Claridge’s. In Paris, it was Kir Royale at the Ritz. And in Rome, I had a Negroni at the St. Regis. From time to time, I’ll order one of these drinks to reminisce on my formerly jaunty lifestyle, but that says nothing of who I am now.
So, what is my poison of choice these days? A Campari and soda. It’s bubbly, playful and kind of sweet but with an unapologetic bitterness that you either love or hate. We’re all subject to moods, but after the fickleness of youth, find your trusty tipple, whatever it is, and rock it—straight up or frozen.
Wine made simple (and under $20)
Retail wine shop Wine Made Simple opened this April in Townside Center on Ivy Road and organizes its $20 and under selection by flavor descriptors rather than varietals or regions. It also offers a monthly sale of three bottles of wine for $20 total. How simple is that?