If there are two things gays like to be at the forefront of it’s trends and liquor. Combine the two and you have the gay obsession with what cocktail is in and which isn’t. Don’t believe us? We dare you to go into a gay bar in any major metropolitan area on a busy night and loudly order a Cosmo. (We apologize in advance if you really like Cosmo’s and in fact, the best kind of drink is the one that’s best for you.) Still, one of the best ways to take the temperature of the gay community is to see what they’re drinking, as our look into the recent past reveals.
B.C.: Before Cosmo (pre-1997)
Oh sure, gays were getting drunk long before the Cosmo came to town, but it’s remembered now as a shadowy world of light beers, wine coolers, Cape Cods, Long Island Iced Teas and other seashore-related libations. People drank and certain drinks were more popular than others, but the idea that everyone just had to be drinking the same thing was unheard of. Early gays did not yet know the unifying power of a single cocktail and so, like hunter-gatherers, each found his own respective drink, rarely holding much allegiance one way or another, unaware that just beyond the horizon a new sunset beckoned.
The Cosmo (1997-2001)
The Cosmopolitan wasn’t just a drink, it was a way of life. Though it had been around since the 1970’s, most likely created by gay men in Provincetown, it wasn’t until the early 90s when Odeon bartender Toby Cecchini replaced the drink’s original call for Rose’s lime syrup with fresh-squeezed lime juice and added Cointreau to balance the flavors that the drink really began to take off.
It was the 1997 opening of New York City’s G Lounge, however, that transformed the Cosmo from being just a labor-intensive sweet martini into the cultural Sex in the City/Ohmygod-I-am-so-embarrassed-my-mother-is-drinking-it icon that it’s now become. G Lounge was the first gay bar in New York to embrace style and design. Gay bars of yesteryear had dark plywood walls and windowless facades. G Lounge aimed for slick and open, it’s glass windows letting any passerby on 19th Street to look in on the action. At the center of it was The Cosmo, whose very name fit in with the decor. Mania for the drink continued and soon G was serving frozen slushy versions of the drink while the rest of the city’s gay bars played catch-up; embracing a style and sweetness that said in the boom time, post-AIDS crisis that fun was back.
Sure, it was Carrie Bradshaw and company who popularized the drink in mainstream America, but the ubiquity of it wasn’t overhyped on the show: Everyone you knew drank cosmos, all the time. Every time the Cosmo trend looked to be flagging, a new group would discover it or rediscover it and the whole process started over again, like the tech bubble, but with alcohol. Once it became the queer drink for the straight guy, the Cosmo’s days in gay bars was doomed and ever since, people have searched for “the next Cosmo.”
The Mojito (2000-2003)
Simply put, no drink could ever hope to be the true heir of the mighty Cosmo, but the mojito came pretty damn close. Our guess is that it won out simply because of all the sweet-flavored challengers to the throne. The mojito, which requires approximately seven days to make, was the only thing more complicated to make than the Cosmo. It also had the added benefits of being a Latin drink that didn’t have a pineapple in it and was served in something besides a martini glass. Which is why, by 2002, even James Bond was drinking it in Die Another Day. You would think that after 9/11, drinks would go back to simplicity, but now cocktails were seen less and less as things designed to get you blasted and more like small works of art. Bar owners, more than willing to find an excuse to jack-up the prices, were happy to oblige.
Sake/ Cucumber-Infused/ Anything with a Complicated Garnish (2004)
2004 marked the high point of cocktail baroque. As the country went to war and our rights went down the can, at the very least we could have a fancy cocktail. Bartenders started to look more like apothecaries with infusions, tinctures, washes and gold-dust rims on hand to whip up increasingly nonsensical drinks. With so many mutant drinks running around, it wasn’t long before there was a call for new found order and simplicity.
Pomegranate Martini (2005)
For a brief shining moment, order and harmony was restored to the world of the gay cocktail. As the world fell apart and Bush began a second term, the pomegranate martini was the drink of choice. Even Oprah named it as her favorite drink, though in reality, despite the dubious claims of health benefits, the pomegranate martini’s popularity was solely based on the fact that it reminded people of drinking a Cosmo. After the better part of a decade being spent in pursuit of the “new Cosmo”, the time had finally come to start looking for something else.
RosÃ© (Summer 2006)
Things had become so bad that for a moment, the cocktail of choice wasn’t even a cocktail at all, it was a wine. RosÃ© wine, that bastard child that’s neither red nor white, served in paper cups over ice, became, according the NYTimes, “the new Cosmo”, with its associations of St. Tropez and the Carribean. People enjoyed it because it didn’t give them a hangover. If the Cosmo exemplified the showiness of gay style in the 90s, rosÃ© captured the studied casualness and low-rent virtues of the new hipsterati.
Vodka & Tonic (2006-2007)
Eventually, everyone seemed to catch on that alcohol on its own has a pretty high-caloric intake, but mix it with sugar and fruit juice and you’re downing your gym routine every night at the bar. A vodka tonic with lime exemplifies the new simplicity ethos, but at the same time, seems a bit like overkill. A vodka tonic will get you drunk, but it’s also drab and boring. Put it this way, when you drink a vodka tonic, you’re only a glass full of fizzy water away from being a lonely Siberian doing shots on the steppes.
The Return of the Classic Cocktail (2008-present)
Manhattans, Sazeracs, Old-Fashioneds and Brown Derbys; the drinks your great-grandfather drank, are being rediscovered by a new generation. Where the Cosmo promised a night out on the town with the girls, today’s popular drinks evoke dim-lounges filled with well-dressed men eying each other in the night. Perhaps it’s a sign of progress that the gay bars of the 30s, 40s and 50s, which thrived on danger and shame, are viewed by the modern gay community as places of mystery and intrigue. Maybe it’s that even though we’re emulating the drinking habits of old, we’re no longer hiding in the dark. It could just be that the classics taste so good. My drink of choice at the moment is a French 75, a combination of gin, lemon, simple syrup and champagne, named during World War I for the artillery shell which gave a similar kick. The upshot of the “classic cocktail” meme is that people are now ordering based on their own personal preference, meaning that perhaps the days of the gay solidarity cocktail are at long last, numbered.