About 10 years ago, I would feel really bad charging for a Sidecar or a Negroni. I’d get one order a year for a classic cocktail. And instead of ringing up the sale, I wanted to thank the customer for allowing me to hone my skills.
At the time vodka ruled and just about everything was called a “tini.” People were enjoying Cosmos, French Martinis and Dirty Martinis, but generally had very little idea of what they were drinking. Vodka cocktails were simple and not overly complex with just enough of a mixer to mask the alcohol taste.
Many bartenders tend to look down on vodka now. The arguments range from the historical—vodka wasn’t traditionally used in cocktails—to the artistic—vodka is like tofu, since a drink’s entire flavor comes from the other ingredients. What’s worse is if you order a vodka drink, some bartenders take it as a personal insult and a sign of bad taste.
What these mixologists so easily forget is that if it wasn’t for the popularity of vodka cocktails in the ’90s we wouldn’t have a resurgence of classic cocktails. Bar menus are full of creative drinks that call for a wide variety of spirits but, as any bartender can tell you, vodka cocktails are still the biggest sellers. I believe that vodka is here to stay. But you don’t just have to use the alcohol in Screwdrivers and Cosmos. For example, try my recipe for the West Side, a really tasty lemon and mint vodka cocktail. It is the all-time best seller at my bar Employees Only, and will appeal even to the most headstrong of serious cocktail drinkers.