If ever a drink symbolized a specific time, it is the bright pink, citric Cosmopolitan. That time was the 1990s. It was the drink to be seen with. In New York, people drank Cosmopolitans by the trayload in the elevated Rainbow Room bar inside Rockefeller Center. One photo of Madonna enjoying a Cosmopolitan on a night out, coupled with the weekly cocktail-drinking adventures of Carrie Bradshaw and her friends in Sex and the City, was all it took to make the drink a phenomenon.
Its story begins as recently as 1968. Marketing men for the company Ocean Spray were looking for a way to bring their cranberry juice to the adult market, so on every carton they printed a recipe for a new cocktail called the Harpoon. This consisted of vodka, cranberry juice, and lime. It may have lacked finesse, but it was enough to encourage barmen to start experimenting.
Of the number of people who are credited with bringing a cranberry-flavored cocktail to a wider audience, the main player appears to be a bartender named Cheryl Cook, working in South Beach, Florida, in the late ’70s. She noticed that her customers wanted to be seen drinking something sophisticated like a martini, but that in fact it was too sour for them. So she decided to create a cocktail that would suit the Miami crowd. She used lemon-infused vodka and triple sec combined with lime for sharpness and sweetened it with just enough cranberry juice to make it pretty. She says she chose the name as a direct link to the magazine Cosmopolitan, whose style and design she was trying to reflect.
Cook’s role in the history of the Cosmopolitan is constantly disputed—some say she never even existed. One man who did exist and can be pinpointed for helping the drink’s global domination was John Caine. He came across variations while working the bars of Provincetown, Massachusetts, which in the 1970s was a popular destination among emerging gay communities. Provincetown is not far from one of the main cranberry-producing areas in America, and the Cosmopolitan had become incredibly popular as a way of using the local juice. When Caine left to start his own bar in San Francisco a few years later, he took the drink with him.
The Cosmopolitan became widely known in trendy bars in San Francisco. People hung out, drinking, smoking, and having fun. It was during this time that the drink began to creep into popular culture. The writings of Armistead Maupin described the San Francisco social scene, and soon the Cosmo had spread across the country, eventually making its way to New York and into those Sex and the City girls’ glasses.–James Winter
LC Cosmopolitan Moment Note
Think back to your most memorable Cosmopolitan moment. It can be your own Cosmopolitan moment or it can be a Cosmopolitan moment you experienced vicariously, whether via a dear friend, a despised coworker, or a drunken epiphany while watching the sassy ladies from Sex and the City. Go on. Divulge. We’re all friends here. Let us know in a comment below. Go.
Special Equipment: cocktail shaker
- Quick Glance
- 5 M
- 5 M
- Serves 1
- 1 ounce citron vodka
- 1/2 ounce Cointreau
- 1/2 ounce lime juice
- 1/2 ounce cranberry juice
- Ice cubes
- Orange twist, for garnish
- 1. Shake the vodka, Cointreau, lime juice, cranberry juice, and ice vigorously in a cocktail shaker.
- 2. Strain the pale pink Cosmopolitan into a martini glass, garnish with the twist, and serve.
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Cosmopolitan Recipe © 2012 James Winter. Photo © 2012 Isobel Wield. All rights reserved.
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