The 1980s was a paradise if you liked your pop culture bright, enthusiastic and dumb. Fittingly, the most popular libations of the ’80s were nauseating, Rubik’s Cube–colored and laden with unnecessary sexual innuendo. Between the Sheets. The Slippery Nipple. The Screaming Orgasm. Sex On The Beach.
I was always surprised when that last one didn’t involve putting sand down your pants and rubbing vigorously.
But not every signature cocktail from the ’80s was bad. Some of them were fuckin’ horrible.
Remember the Cement Mixer? A shot of Bailey’s chased with limejuice that causes the Irish Cream to curdle and gain viscosity. Who invented this abomination? Was it some twisted fetishist who always longed to have a leprechaun take a dump in their mouth? Or maybe it was Isaac from The Love Boat. Or maybe it was Brian Flanagan. What, you don’t remember Brian Flanagan? More on him later.
The real puzzler is, though, for as odious as the ’80s were (yes, I’m talking to you, Steve Urkel), the Decade Taste Forgot now seems to evoke nostalgia across wide swaths of the population — a testament to the brutal effects drug abuse has on memory.
While we bathe in a global economic crisis, homages to the era of conspicuous consumption and “greed is good” are popping up everywhere. Power shoulders and neon are in fashion again. Hollywood recently remade The A-Team, The Karate Kid and Wall Street. Hell, Blondie and Devo are headlining one of the summer’s biggest music tours.
But I’ll take a New Kids On The Block Tribute Band — hell, I’ll even take four (four!) Mr. Mister reunion tours — if the nostalgia powers that be will promise not to bring back those damn cocktails.
Because the moment that changed everything — the abomination that would ultimately lead to the modern craft cocktail revival in this country — can be summed up in five simple words…
“When he pours, he reigns.”
That’s the movie poster tagline for Cocktail, the 1988 film starring Tom Cruise as a TGI Friday’s–grade bartender named, you guessed it, Brian Flanagan, a man who, over the course of a nigh-unwatchable 103 minutes discovers he can get with hot chicks if he doesn’t just pour their drinks, but juggles them first. Here, take a stroll down Shitty Memory Lane with me…
Cocktail – The World’s Last Barman Poet
This scene perfectly illustrates just how batshit crazy things were in the late 1980s. Not only did millions of moviegoers find it totally plausible that a smirking, diminutive bartender could command the undivided attention of hundreds of New York City clubgoers hopped up on coke and Duran Duran simply by reciting a terrible poem, but dudes in crowds could shout things like “give us a kiss, you sexy beast!” to Tom Cruise and not be immediately tackled by Scientologists and shipped off to L. Ron Hubbard camp.
It was a different time.
But while the fictional Flanagan was waxing poetic on the Big Screen about “the sex on the beach” and “schnapps made from peach,” over at New York City’s Rainbow Room, the very-much-real-life Dale DeGroff was orchestrating a revolution.
DeGroff, of course, is a James Beard Award–winning barman, and founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail. He spearheaded the movement to bring back the Negroni, the Sazerac and the Blood & Sand. And having had many a conversation with him over the years about the industry’s Dark Ages, I can assure you that Cocktail most certainly motivated him to try and rescue the world’s taprooms from the skinny-tie-wearing hordes depicted in the movie.
My only fear is that things go in cycles. We are living through a golden age of cocktails, thanks to the hard work of Dale and other pioneering bartenders around the world.
But for as creative as today’s top mixologists are, they’ve all but run out of ways to modify those classic sours and aromatics brought back from the dead a quarter century ago… and that means the Zombies and Mind Erasers are just around the corner. And when they show up, can Gloria Estefan be far behind?
I tell you this: the rhythm may get me, but I will go down clutching a Blood and Sand.