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The Entire History of the Modern Cocktail Movement in One Book

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You might be surprised how many years—and people—it took to get that drink in front of you. In his latest book, A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World (Ten Speed Press, $27), author and New York Times cocktail writer Robert Simonson provides a lively history of the cocktail revolution that spans, more or less, the last three decades. The book also includes modern classic cocktail recipes, of course. (Note: Quite a few drinks didn’t make the cut; those can be found in Simonson’s cocktail app, Modern Classics of the Cocktail Renaissance.)

Here’s a much-abbreviated cheat sheet to eight bartenders you ought to know and some of the drinks that helped make them famous. Raise a glass to each; they helped make your cocktail what it is today.


1. Dale DeGroff

DeGroff and his Rainbow Planter’s Punch cocktail

DeGroff rose to prominence resurrecting classic cocktails at New York City’s swanky Rainbow Room, which opened in 1987. He was among the first to mandate “no junk brands” at his bar and helped bring back glamour and quality ingredients to bars. His work inspired generations of bartenders that followed.

2. Dick Bradsell

Bradsell and his Bramble cocktail

British bartender Bradsell became well-known in the 1990s, where he resurrected London’s cocktail scene. He’s famed for creating now-classic drinks including the Bramble and the Espresso Martini and is missed. The cocktail world suffered a big loss with his passing February 2016.

3. Toby Cecchini

Cecchini and his Cosmopolitan cocktail (image: Hanna Lee)

To be fair, there’s some debate about who created the original Cosmopolitan, whether it was DeGroff, a Florida bartender named Cheryl Cook or Cecchini, who devised a Cosmo in 1988, during his tenure at NYC’s Odeon. But all agree that Cecchini popularized the vodka-and-cranberry ’tini, which Simonson dubs as “arguably the only modern cocktail to become a household word.”

4. Tony Abou-Ganim

Abou-Ganim and his Cable Car cocktail

In the 1990s, Abou-Ganim worked at venues including The Starlight Room in San Francisco, where he created the Cable Car (a spiced rum sour), before decamping to Las Vegas, where he played a key role in invigorating cocktail showmanship there.

5. Julio Bermejo

Bermejo and his Tommy’s Margarita cocktail (image: Bill Bumgarner)

“An early voice in insisting on respect for tequila,” says Simonson, Bermejo is best known for creating the beautifully straightforward Tommy’s Margarita in the early ’90s, when it was (and still is) offered at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco.

6. Sasha Petraske

Petraske and his Shifting Sands cocktail

Native New Yorker Petraske built the Milk & Honey franchise (among other bars), setting the stage for the speakeasy-style bar aesthetic that characterized the modern cocktail revival, before his passing in 2015. Famed not only for his now-legendary bars but also for training and inspiring multitudes of well-respected bartenders who followed in his footsteps.

7. Julie Reiner

Reiner and her Gotham cocktail (image: Daniel Krieger)

Simonson describes Reiner as one of DeGroff’s “greatest apostles.” The Hawaii native cut her bartending teeth in San Francisco, then moved to New York City where she made her name as one of the first to bring house-made infused spirits to the bar scene while at a Village bar called C3. These days, you’re probably more familiar with her current ventures, Flatiron Lounge and Clover Club.

8. Audrey Saunders

Saunders and her Gin-Gin Mule cocktail

Saunders worked alongside DeGroff in NYC for years, first assisting at private events, later as bartender at Blackbird. She went on to work at Waldy Malouf’s Beacon and then the posh Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle hotel. Now she’s best known for Soho’s Pegu Club, where her drink credits include the Gin-Gin Mule and the rum-based Old Cuban.

Series & Type: History
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