If you’re craving a little nostalgia, then look no further than the Cosmopolitan. Often stereotyped as a woman’s signature bar drink, the “Cosmo” has a rich—albeit short—history in cocktail culture. Ahead of National Cosmopolitan Day this May 7, we’re exploring the origins of the pink drink, its fast rise to fame, and how it changed what the world is drinking.
From Marketing Ploy To Cocktail Vogue
The Cosmopolitan’s story starts in 1968 with a beverage company you might recognize—Ocean Spray. In an attempt to market their cranberry juice products to adult consumers, Ocean Spray began printing a cocktail recipe on the label of every bottle. Called “The Harpoon,” the provided recipe called for an ounce each of cranberry juice and vodka with a hint of lime; not too far off from the Cosmopolitan we know and enjoy today.
From there, the story diverges. There are two possibilities for who can be credited with the creation of the modern drink:
The first involves Cheryl Cook circa late 1970s South Beach, Miami. In an effort to create a sweeter drink with the sophistication of a martini, Cook reportedly combined lemon-infused vodka, triple sec, Rose’s lime juice, and enough cranberry juice to make it pink. This is also supposedly where the name “Cosmopolitan” comes from. Inspired by the magazine of the same name, Cook reportedly sought to mirror that aesthetic in a cocktail she could serve to her patrons at The Strand.
This version of the story is often disputed, as it contradicts with another potential inventor’s account. While bartending in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during the same period, John Caine experienced locally sourced cranberry juice being used in a number of cocktails. When he relocated to San Francisco to start his own bar, he created his own version of the drink. The Cosmopolitan became a trendy drink among the LGBTQ community that frequented his bar.
A Cosmopolitan Among Stars
Like so many other cultural phenomena, The Cosmopolitan owes its fast rise to fame thanks to connections with New York City’s social circle. In 1987, Toby Cecchini introduced the drink to The Odeon in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood. He put his own spin on the recipe by swapping out Rose’s with fresh lime juice, serving the upscale mixture to the likes of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
From there, the drink reached the city’s famous Rainbow Room by way of Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff. His version included Absolut Citron, Cointreau, cranberry juice, and fresh lime juice, garnished with a flamed orange peel. By then the drink had became a favorite of the celebrity clientele of the 90s. Madonna is famously pictured sipping the drink at the venue after a Grammy party.
In 1998, the emergence of hit television show, Sex and The City, further cemented the Cosmopolitan’s place as a staple of American cocktail culture. The show’s influence quickly helped the recipe spread to menus nationwide, though it also had the backlash of encouraging stereotypes associated with the drink. The Cosmopolitan has been accused of being “overly feminine,” but that’s a weak jab toward a cocktail that’s had such a huge impact on popular culture—it’s simple, sweet, seductive, and sophisticated. Carrie Bradshaw would approve.
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