In the final moments of the 2008 “Sex and the City” movie, the HBO hit show’s four lead characters — Carrie Bradshaw, Miranda Hobbs, Samantha Jones, and Charlotte York — enjoy a nostalgic reunion with an old friend, Cosmo.
“This is delicious!” Charlotte exclaims, as she sips a shimmering pink Cosmopolitan cocktail from an oversized Martini glass. “Why did we ever stop drinking these?” Miranda wonders. In turn, Carrie quips, “Because everyone else started!”
Their conversation is loaded with intentional irony. Many people did, in fact, start drinking Cosmopolitans (or Cosmos) during the late ‘90s, arguably because of the drink’s association with the show and its sex-column-writing protagonist, Carrie Bradshaw. Whether or not the Cosmo is, as Charlotte says, a “delicious” drink, is historically and hotly debated.
Before “Sex and the City” (SATC) first hit the small screen in 1998, the bright pink cocktail had already amassed an impressive following among New York socialites and celebrities in the late 1980s. Bartender Toby Cecchini is widely credited with introducing the drink to high-profile regulars at TriBeCa brasserie The Odeon, where he worked at the time.
Cecchini, who now owns Long Island Bar in Brooklyn, has often recounted how he “adapted” the recipe from another pink cocktail called the Cosmopolitan, which was doing the rounds in San Francisco gay bars. Cecchini learned of that drink from a colleague, who was introduced to it by friends visiting from the West Coast.
“It was gross, but it looked pretty,” Cecchini told Punch in a 2017 interview. “I went about reconstructing it.” He upgraded the drink’s ingredients, swapping out rail vodka and store-bought lime juice with new-on-the-market Absolut Citron, a lemon-flavored vodka, and freshly squeezed citrus. In place of grenadine, Cecchini used cranberry juice to give the drink its signature hue, and added triple sec (Cointreau, by many accounts) for sweet balance.
Ironically, the ingredients hardly mattered. What shot the drink into popularity was its instantly recognizable pink hue. “It was always made wrong, and you could tell, because it looked like a Negroni,” Cecchini said. “Nobody was doing the proper amount of lime juice. … There was too much cranberry. And still, to this day, people never get it right.”
The Cosmopolitan’s hit-or-miss ubiquity, and the countless overly sweet, artificial-looking recreations, sadly led to its downfall. But at its core, the Cosmo belongs to the “sour” family of cocktails, and is a sibling of other hugely popular drinks such as the Margarita and Daiquiri. In capable hands, and by avoiding gimmicky tools and ingredients, both can be crafted into stunning drinks. So is the Cosmo, too, worthy of a second chance?
VinePair decided to find out. To do so, we thought it would only be fitting to give the drink another go at the major New York bars and restaurants that featured in “Sex and the City.” After all, this was the show that helped make the drink famous.
Helping this writer on the Cosmo-fueled bar crawl was VinePair’s director of marketing, Jeff Licciardello, a late-to-the-game “Sex and the City” fan who regularly watches reruns of the show. VinePair columnist and cocktail enthusiast Aaron Goldfarb was also on hand to share his knowledge and palate (Goldfarb has been a regular fixture on previous VinePair bar crawls).
And making a special-guest appearance was Melissa Stokoski, an actor and comedian who leads guided “Sex and the City” tours two to three times a week for On Tour Locations.
To set the stage, our tasting began at the Cosmo’s original NYC home, The Odeon.
Our judging process was simple: If the establishment featured a Cosmo on its menu, we’d order that. If it didn’t, we would ask for one to be prepared according to the house specifications. Each taster scored each drink on preparation, presentation, ingredients, balance of flavors, and value for money. Scores were then averaged to determine our final ranking.
Setting the Standard: The Odeon
The NYC home of the Cosmo never featured in SATC, but it feels like the type of restaurant where the bougie leading characters would start the night. The TriBeCa institution captures a traditional French brasserie’s comfort and sophistication, while a long, incredibly well-lit art deco bar dazzles. (It also reportedly cost close to 10 percent of the restaurant’s opening budget when it debuted in 1980.)
The tasting team told our bartender about the Cosmo crawl, and he reacted excitedly, recounting the drink’s ties to the restaurant and detailing its popularity — he prepares 20 to 30 per shift, on average.
The perfectly pink Cosmos he served arrived in sturdy Martini glasses. In other, more modern establishments, the thickness of the glass would have felt tacky; but in this nostalgic setting, they were perfect. While our bartender free-poured the ingredients, the drinks were remarkably well balanced: tart, fruity, and acidic, with just the right amount of sweetness. Average score: 21.75/25
In SATC Season 3, Episode 3, “Attack of the Five Foot Ten Woman,” the girls brunch in SoHo’s Italian eatery, Cipriani. Flicking through The New York Times wedding section, they learn that Carrie’s ex, John James “Mr. Big” Preston, has married his girlfriend of five months, Natasha Naginsky.
Drinking a Cosmo at Cipriani in 2020 proves to be a similar assault. The service is elitist, and the experience resembles an awkward first date you really want to end and will pay any price to get out of. In this case, that was $22. In return, we received a tiny, foamy Cosmo, served in the type of thick, stemmed water glasses designed for large-volume catered events and not expensive New York restaurants.
Cipriani’s bartender opted not to shake our drinks, but instead mixed them using a milkshake frother. The result was undeniably attractive, but not a classic Cosmo preparation by any parameters. It contained (unflavored) Stolichnaya vodka, tasted like pink lemonade seasoned with sour mix, and arrived with a clumsy lime-wedge garnish. While the Cosmopolitan has come to embody free-spirited fun, drinking this frothy concoction at Cipriani feels anything but. Average score: 8/25
Chelsea’s Cafeteria restaurant, known for its 24/7 service, is also the location for numerous brunch scenes throughout the SATC series. Nearly two decades since the show finished, Cafeteria’s ambience evokes that late-30s friend who, rather than settling down like many of their contemporaries, is trying to keep the party going for as long as possible. The music, a compilation of Ibiza dance hits from the early 2000s, blares multiple decibels too loud, and the after-dark lighting is inappropriately low for any restaurant — even one that never closes.
As for its Cosmo: a modern interpretation that deserves some acknowledgement for effort, but the delivery, much like the bar/restaurant in general, is off. Served in a Nick & Nora glass, this Cosmo smelled like Starburst-infused vodka and tasted like an overly sweet passionfruit-spiked Sex on the Beach. Bearing as much resemblance to a classic Cosmopolitan as an Appletini does to a Martini, this is an accomplished Sandals resort cocktail at best. Average score: 12.25/25
4. Grand Bar & Lounge at the Soho Grand Hotel
Featured in Episode 15 of Season 4 (“Change of a Dress”), this hotel bar and lounge played host to a charity event put on by (fictional) hotel magnate Richard Wright, Samantha’s soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. During the formal “Black and White” party, Samantha learns Richard is seeing other women, and is shocked to discover how much it bothers her. “I think I have monogamy,” she tells her friends. “I caught it from you people.”
IRL, the Soho Grand delivers an authentic, glamorous SATC experience. The decor seasons stripped-back regal fittings with sleek 21st-century details. Both the bar and lounge feel expensive without being stuffy, and the staff provides remarkably friendly service.
If it’s Cosmos you’re looking for, you’ll need to order off-menu and there’s no Absolut Citron on the bar. The cocktails arrived in a stiletto-thin, oversized coupe glasses, garnished with a large orange twist. The sweet citrus fruit garnish ultimately hijacked the drink, and the mixture lacked boozy punch. As this Cosmo’s beauty is only skin-deep, it’s acceptable for a one-time fling but definitely not worthy of long-term commitment. Average score: 13/25
3. Onieal’s Bar and Restaurant
The most-recognizable bar from the show (On Tour Locations finishes its tours here), Onieal’s is better known to SATC fans as Scout, the bar co-owned by Steve Brady, Miranda’s husband, and Aidan Shaw, Carrie’s two-time boyfriend and one-time fiancé.
The main appeal of this Nolita bar today is its familiarity from the show. But past that, it’s hard to pin down exactly what the space serves as. “Is it a pub, lounge, or a dive bar?” we wondered. It’s dimly lit, has TV screens behind the bar, and is furnished with a mismatch of multicolored faux-velvet booths.
Sipping a Cosmo at Onieal’s is an obvious must for SATC fans, but for cocktail enthusiasts, the experience doesn’t deliver the same appeal. Served in a robust Martini glass (read: chunky), the cocktail had a vivid red hue, leading us to question whether there was too much cranberry juice in the mixture, or perhaps even an illicit splash of Rose’s Grenadine. Either way, the drink lacked tartness and acidity, and arrived with undesirable hints of Luden’s cough drops. Average score: 13/25
Featured in the 2008 “Sex and the City” movie, Carrie and fiancé Mr. Big choose Buddakan as the location for their wedding rehearsal dinner. During the course of the evening, Miranda accidentally plants seeds of doubt in Big’s mind, paving the way for numerous plot twists throughout the movie.
Situated in a nondescript (from the outside) industrial warehouse in the Meatpacking District, the cavernous bar and restaurant epitomizes everything you want from a SATC experience. There’s sushi Lounge music, courtesy of a live DJ who’s tucked away beside the bar; the kitchen serves Asian fusion dishes, like edamame dumplings, while the bar area, which overlooks the vast dining room below, seems custom-designed for bottle service.
Of all the locations we visited, this was the only bar where we weren’t the only ones drinking Cosmos. We surely weren’t alone in enjoying them, either. A booze-forward cocktail, Buddakan’s Cosmo is rose pink, suggesting just the right proportion of cranberry juice (a notion that was backed up by its slightly astringent flavor profile). Tasters docked points for insufficient lime juice, but we doubted this would have been a major problem for Carrie and co. Average score: 16.5/25
“The most powerful woman in New York is not Tina Brown, or Diane Sawyer, or even Rosie O’Donnell,” Carrie says during the opening narration of Season 1, Episode 5 (“The Power of Female Sex”). “It’s the hostess at Balzac, which had overnight become the only restaurant that mattered.”
“Balzac,” the fictional French restaurant, proves too exclusive for even Carrie and Samantha to get a seat, so they opt to leave and eat elsewhere. The scene’s external shots are of bona fide Soho brasserie Balthazar. The restaurant also has interesting ties to the Cosmopolitan: Its owner, restaurateur Keith McNally, also founded The Odeon — he opened Balthazar in 1997 after selling his stake in The Odeon.
The brasserie shares similar DNA to The Odeon in both its decor and ambiance. But the energy is livelier and you can easily imagine the girls spending Friday night here, animatedly discussing the past week over a few rounds of Cosmos.
While the drink doesn’t feature on the menu, our bartender, Willis, informed us he had all the ingredients to whip up authentic Cosmos, including Absolut Citron. Within no time, he served a picture-perfect round of cocktails that accurately recreated The Odeon’s version, down to the bubblegum-pink hue and slightly dated, but not-out-of-place, Martini glasses. Refreshing, balanced, and sweet, without tasting cloying, these were amazing Cosmos. While The Odeon’s version was sharp around the edges, Balthazar’s slightly sweeter version was well rounded and perfectly balanced.
Sitting there with our perfect Cosmos in hand, we couldn’t help but wonder: Was this not only the best Cosmopolitan of our “Sex and the City” crawl, or does Balthazar offer the finest version of the drink in Manhattan, period? Either way, the jury was out: The Cosmopolitan is a delicious cocktail, after all. Average score: 22.5/25