In the lead up to the 95th Academy Awards, this week on VinePair we’re celebrating the starring role drinks have played in the most iconic movies in history. Read more about Drinking On Screen here.
Springfield: Home of the Simpsons at Universal Studios is the theme park’s attempt at nearing a fictional universe. Touches to approximate cartoon Springfield in Orlando, Fla., include a statue of the town’s founder, Jebediah Obadiah Zachariah Jedediah Springfield, atop the bear he ostensibly killed with his bare hands, that places visitors in the town square. The Kwik-E-Mart, albeit filled with souvenirs instead of slushies, feels realistic enough to offer a chance encounter with Apu. But one thing truly brings the imaginary town to life. Inside the orange- and green-windowed tavern, Moe’s perturbed voice rattles over the speakers and a life-sized Barney Gumble stands at the bar. Behind the counter, the barman pours Duff Beer from the tap. It tastes and smells like a brew you’d have after a long day at the power plant or an endless afternoon dealing with Bart’s shenanigans. A light, refreshing lager, it has the sophisticated touch of unsophistication. Without Duff, Universal’s Springfield would feel flat.
The same is true in Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Sure, Muggles pretend to be Hogwart pupils, waving interactive wands and activating sensors, to some effect. But transforming the fantastical alley to a place of magic occurs only when a Wizard’s Brew arrives at one’s table. The sweet but balanced stout has a great nose and appropriate heaviness for the damp and dark Leaky Cauldron, but also for the Florida heat outside. And when the fire-breathing dragon atop Gringotts Bank lays more heat onto the street below, sipping an amber lager called Dragon Scale makes the fiery burst a little less fantastical.
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The power of a good drink can be transportive, and when a beverage expertly captures something from a show or movie, one can be whisked off to, say, Springfield or Platform 9 ¾.
But these drinks can’t just be puny puns; they require world-building, too.
Recently I’d gone into a speakeasy, excited to sample a few cocktails named after books and Broadway performances that I’d once enjoyed. “What’s the story behind the Atlas Shrubbed?” I asked the server.
She shrugged and said simply, “It’s because there’s a book that sounds like the drink. And it’s got vegetables in it.”
This lazy attempt of mixing up Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” behind a bar didn’t do it for me. But there are plenty of considerate drink makers bringing pop to pop culture-inspired drinks.
One brewer in Bismarck, N.D., found a way to transport his guests to Potter’s world with his interpretation of Butterbeer. At Gideon’s Brewing Co., the brewer Woody — who refused to give anything more than a first name, as if Rowling’s Dementors were after him for copyright infringement — used oatmeal, milk, wheat ale, and a reduction of Scotch whisky and brown sugar to create big butterscotch flavors. Sipping Woody’s creation transports guests to the Three Broomsticks from Fifth Street in Bismarck.
Imagine watching Harry Potter’s daring Quidditch match without sound or “Jaws” sans instrumentals. Those scenes would be as exciting as waiting for a house sparrow to emerge from a nest. Movies are elevated by soundtracks. So are some cocktail menus.
At Al Coro, a restaurant on the West Side of Manhattan, the drinks list is written out like a movie soundtrack. The left side of the menu would accompany the hot and bubbly scenes of rising action with its tequila bases and Champagne or Calabrian peppers; the right side offers darker drinks: rums and whiskeys to complement all the things that typically happen between climax and resolution. And in the balcony above Al Coro’s bar, a four-piece band takes you through the cinematic and gastronomic journey.
The house band sometimes plays songs from the menu, but one doesn’t need to hear Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” to be placed in that moment in a film when the pace quickens, rain pours, and darkness comes for the protagonist. All of that comes through in Al Coro’s drink of the same name. The coffee and cacao caffeination mixed with rye sings: “Sleep with one eye open / Gripping your pillow tight.”
For some, naming a drink after a fictional work might feel cheesy or cheap. Mike Dell-Aquila of the newly opened Hot Plate Brewing Co. in Pittsfield, Mass., who names his beers after Wu-Tang Clan lyrics, Weezer songs, movies, and sketch comedy skits, disagrees. “What’s an interesting way to present [a beer] to the world?” he muses. “Telling a story and giving someone a context helps them place themselves in it.”
Some bars, breweries, and restaurants will continue to offer drinks named for a film because it makes for a good pun but offers no story. But those rare drinks that capture a moment from a movie or recreate an imagined universe with the right pour are like wonderful fan fiction in liquid form.