Frank Sinatra was buried with a bottle of Jack Daniels. Both he and the bottle must be rolling in that grave because of what Americans are sipping in bars and clubs today. But before the Jell-O shooter, before Red Bull and vodka, and way earlier than Irish Car Bombs, there was the cocktail. An urbane libation meant to be sipped in the company of friends, the cocktail is a mainstay of Americana, and while modern-day concoctions have mutated, muddled, and mixed original recipes (see: carrot caipirinhas), retro cocktails are back and in demand in Charleston.
VooDoo Tiki Bar & Lounge
West Ashley. 15 Magnolia Drive
Delightfully tasty, fruit followed by fizz. The Singapore Sling at über-kitsch West Ashley bar Voodoo Lounge, where the scene is all 1950s tiki décor, conjures up Blue Hawaii minus Elvis. The drinks match the theme with specials like Cabana Boy and Dark and Stormy, but the most old-school drink on the menu is the Singapore Sling. The Sling, circa 1915, came into fashion at the Raffles Hotel in, where else, Singapore and has been name-dropped in movies, books, and TV shows ever since. In The Rum Diary, Hunter S. Thompson’s characters Kemp, Yeamon, and Chenault drink Singapore Slings at a street carnival in St. Thomas. Funny, given the Sling’s rather innocent appeal. Its pink hue could, in the hands of the wrong man, look like a girly drink. The original recipe includes eight ingredients, but Voodoo’s version gets the job done with four: gin, cherry brandy, sweet and sour mix, and soda water.
Downtown. 102 N. Market St.
Buongiorno principessa! You can almost hear the Italian men catcall as you sip the sparkly smooth pink Bellini at Mercato’s bar. Proseco, white peach nectar, and a little raspberry afloat make up the traditional Italian delight. The refreshing summertime sipper would make a perfect accessory to a swim off the Amalfi coast or in this case, say, a dip in the Atlantic. The drink supposedly started as a seasonal specialty at Harry’s Bar in Venice, a favorite of Sinclair Lewis and Orson Welles, sometime between 1934 and 1948. The Bellini lives on as a favorite today and is one of Italy’s most popular cocktails.
Downtown. 177 Meeting St.
Ernest Hemingway loved a good Daiquiri. So much so he wrote about it in a letter to his son Patrick in 1939, saying, “We stayed up late, and I drank a few highly frozen Daiquiris just to see what their effect would be (it was moderately terrific and made me feel a friend of all mankind),” according to the blog, An Insiders Guide on the Drink Industry. Hemingway particularly enjoyed the ones served at his favorite bar in Havana, El Floridita, where he consumed many a Papa Doble.
The cocktail mixes up white rum, lime, grapefruit juice, and a splash of grenadine with an orange slice garnish. “It feels like you’re just drinking juice, but with a twinge that reminds you indeed you are inebriated,” said Papa Doble enthusiast Joel Anderson, indulging at Club Habana. The Meeting Street cigar bar, filled with the fumes of the finest tobacco, adds to the drink’s historical mystique. Makes you want to sit back, smoke a pipe, and tell stories, like the one about an old man and the sea.
Downtown. 38 Broad St.
Blue laws were enacted to enforce moral standards. But, as Al Capone taught us, where there’s a law there’s always a way to get around it. In this spirit blind tigers were born. Also known as blind pigs or booze cans, these speakeasies helped saloon owners avoid the puritanical regulations by charging customers to see an attraction, i.e. a blind tiger. With the entry fee came a free refreshment and so began a way around Prohibition. Charleston’s own Blind Tiger may not have a gimmick as great as a sightless beast (aside from the one on their window), but they’ll make you a speakeasy favorite for a moderate fee.
The Rum Runner cocktail ties in perfectly with the covert operation. Rum-running was a highly lucrative trade throughout Prohibition and ship captains like William S. McCoy, a.k.a. the “Real McCoy,” made boatloads smuggling the elixir from the Bahamas, Biminis, and the like. Basically rum and juice, a Rum Runner hardly tastes scandalous, but imagine sipping it with one eye on the door and the other one looking over your shoulder. That would spice things up!
N. Charleston. 1034 E. Montague Ave.
January 11 was National Hot Toddy Day, but Toddy enthusiasts can celebrate every day at Madra Rua. “We always make it with Jameson,” says one Madra Rua waitress of the Gaelic pub’s twist on the drink. The use of Irish whiskey doesn’t necessarily mean that the Toddy’s an Irish creation, however. Experts believe it’s more Scottish by way of India. The Hot Toddy traces its name back to the Hindu word tari, which was the sap of palm trees used to make alcoholic drinks. The Hot Toddy arrived on British shores most likely via the East India Company and eventually made its way north. Madra’s take is simple: hot water, whiskey, honey, and cloves. The concoction tastes quite medicinal and is often used to sooth a sore throat.
Le Club Fez Francais et Moroccais
Oh, to be young and bohemian. Make that young, French, and bohemian. The quickest way to go boho now would be to pour yourself a glass of absinthe. The real stuff (with banned ingredient thujone) is still illegal in America, but the next best thing is a glass of the French favorite, Pastis. Following the ban of the green fairy in France in 1915, producers dropped the wormwood from their absinthe, added some sugar, star anise, and voila — Pastis. Similar to other anise-flavored aperitifs, Pastis has a black licorice flavor and is served with a carafe of water. “Usually it’s served straight,” says Fez owner Craig Nelson, “but Americans prefer it with some ice.” It’s Fez’s French customers who are really gaga over Nelson’s addition of the cocktail, though specifically his use of the Ricard brand. “French men love that we use Ricard. Pernot is like the Budweiser of Pastis,” says Nelson. Get the real thing, and you’ll be wearing a beret in no time.