On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss recent drinks trends, and what might be causing them. Is it nostalgia for childhood flavors and aesthetics? Are these cocktails even good, or are they being enjoyed “ironically”? For this Friday’s tasting, your hosts try Dirty Shirleys, a boozy riff on the childhood classic. Tune in to learn more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this the Friday “VinePair Podcast.” God, it’s just good to say.
J: You made it, Adam.
A: Yeah, I really did. It’s been hard. One more week until Memorial Day. What do you guys do for Memorial Day, by the way?
J: Oh, gosh, nothing.
J: It’s dreadful to leave the city on Memorial Day.
A: Yes, do you know what I decided? I don’t know if it’s like this in Seattle, Zach. But over the past few years, you’re the dumbest person in the world if you book something for Memorial Day weekend because the weather is so hit or miss. At least for the past five years in New York. You could get beautiful hot weather, or you get rain and just gross. Here’s my beach vacation, this sucks. Oh, that’s good. It happens all the time. You win the game if you stay in NYC for Memorial Day.
Z: Well, as all of you are listening to this, I will not be in Seattle. We are taking a family trip to Walla Walla with my wife and kids and my dad and his partner. We’re going to go do some wine tasting and enjoy the outdoors because unlike NYC, it is a pretty safe bet that Walla Walla, Wash., will be sunny and warm.
A: That’s why I didn’t want to assume.
J: Are you going to go hiking and stuff?
Z: Joanna, I don’t hike.
A: There will be no chasing waterfalls.
Z: I like to think about hiking. I used to go hiking, but now it is low on the list of priorities.
A: So what will you do?
Z: Probably some combination of visiting a few wineries and just kind of hanging out.
J: Outdoor activities.
A: In a third place.
Z: Drinking outside is an outdoor activity. I want to be very clear on that point.
A: I totally agree.
Z: There’s a very nice pool in Walla Walla. We’ll probably go there. And honestly, part of it is that we have never taken a trip with my dad and the kids, so we’re going to do that.
A: That’s awesome.
Z: Yeah, just kind of relaxed. It’ll be pretty chill, hopefully. But yeah, I will be getting out of town for Memorial Day. Which has not typically been the case for me, but why not? Plus, it’s also Caitlin and my anniversary over the weekend.
A: Oh, happy anniversary. Happy anniversary. Anyways. Anyways, it’s Friday.
Z: Did you work at Chili’s in a different life?
A: You know, I never actually had one of those jobs. I probably would’ve never had enough flair.
J: I was going to say.
Z: You would have had the minimum amount of flair, which is not enough.
A: I know. So speaking of flair and Chili’s, it’s actually the perfect segue way into our conversation today, which is all about nostalgia. And the message that we’re seeing coming back in the restaurant world, specifically, and how that’s being reflected into drinks. To start this off, were you big chain restaurant fans where you grew up? And if you were, what was your favorite?
J: Ooh, that’s a good question. So Benihana is and was and will always be the best chain. It has my heart for sure. But one that I was really fond of when I was a kid was the Rainforest Cafe.
A: You liked Rainforest Cafe?
J: Yeah, it was amazing.
A: We didn’t have those in the South.
J: It had a weird smell, but it was really cool. It had that treated water smell. And it was so misty there.
Z: 95 percent humidity at all times.
A: What kind of food was there?
J: Oh, I don’t know. Hamburgers? It wasn’t about the food, Adam.
A: I know. All these restaurants and the meal was: hamburger. Benihana is funny. I’ll tell you a quick little story about that. Hannah, my niece who’s 6, loves Benihana. She made her father and mother come up with a Benihana song that sometimes she demands to be sung to before she goes to bed. It’s all about how great Benihana is. When you’re a little kid, man, Benihana is the best. It’s dinner and a show.
J: It’s great.
A: I really want to go to that now.
Z: I can see the appeal as a parent now because anything that keeps your child entertained for an entire meal is definitely a win.
A: Yeah. So what about you, Zach? Favorite chain restaurant growing up?
Z: As has come up on this podcast before, I grew up in a household — two households, I guess — that were very anti-chain restaurants in general. And to be also completely honest, at a relatively young age, I was more than happy to play into the notion that such places were beneath me.
A: Really? At a young age?
Z: Shockingly, I’m sure to the two of you and all of our listeners, I might have been a little bit of a pretentious kid.
J: Did you wear a bow tie as a kid?
Z: No, no, I wasn’t that kind of pretentious. But I was a food snob at a time when most of my friends didn’t even think about what they ate except for that they liked French fries and stuff.
Z: I remember going to an Olive Garden for the first time. I think I was 11 or 12 maybe. I went with a friend. It was a sleepover and they wanted to go there for dinner. And I was like, “OK, whatever.”
J: You were such a little sh*t at Olive Garden, weren’t you?
A: This is not really Italian.
Z: It was not totally my fault that my stepmom owned an Italian restaurant that made their pasta and stuff. I was trying to think about what fits into this kind of thing. Because obviously, we’re not talking about fast food here. We’re talking about fast, casual chain restaurants, etc. The one thing I will say, if this fits into the category, and we can decide whether it does or does not, I had a deeply unhealthy relationship with Chipotle in college, including when they opened the Chipotle that was in the East Village on St. Mark’s. They were doing a promotion the first day they opened there that basically everyone’s burrito is free. So as you can imagine, there was an enormous line. And I am embarrassed to tell you how much time I spent in line getting free burritos that day. But I got five of them.
Z: I was a college student and I was like, “I can eat like two of these, and that’ll be all my food for the day. And I could put three more of them in my fridge and then I have food for the next two days.” That was a pretty good idea, except for the 8 hours I spent in line at Chipotle.
A: So I don’t think it counts because it’s fast casual.
A: I’m going to give you Olive Garden. Let’s say that Olive Garden was your favorite because that’s the one that you mentioned.
Z: That’s all I got.
A: Alabama — surprise, surprise — didn’t have a lot of the chain restaurants we know. So the first one that I remember, we would go to but I didn’t love.
J: They had local chains.
A: Shoney’s? Anybody?
Z: I’m aware.
J: But do you know that from South Carolina or do you know that from Alabama?
A: Maryland, Florida — Shoney’s.
J: So the South, OK.
A: It was terrible. My parents hated it. But it was the restaurant that was initially in Auburn, that was a chain. And then it was a huge deal when Applebee’s came and Chili’s came. We’d wait for an hour to get into these places. And then the biggest deal was when I was in middle school/junior high and Outback came. And that motherf*cking Bloomin’ Onion. That was the best. And you’d get the salad with the brown bread. The salad was not good. It was iceberg lettuce and big croutons and cheese, and a honey mustard dressing. Would you like some sugar for your vegetables? Cool, let’s dump all this on. And then that bread, I don’t even know if it was bread, with the butter that was sweetened. It was sweet butter. And then you’d have this steak that was covered in salt. But you had to have a Bloomin’ Onion.
J: Of course.
A: That was probably my favorite chain because it’s what we had. And that was the place to go. It’s where you took your high school date or your pre-dance date. And then when I got to college, I moved to Atlanta, went to college in Atlanta. I’d never, ever, ever been to a Maggianos before. Maggiano’s Macaroni Grill.
J: Yes. Macaroni Grill.
A: The best. That and the Cheesecake Factory.
J: Also great.
A: Josh, the co-founder of VinePair, loves Cheesecake Factory. Sorry, Josh blowing it up.
J: Who doesn’t?
A: Oh, God. Santa Fe chicken salad was Josh’s order. I just want everyone to know.
J: There’s a cult of Cheesecake Factory lovers.
A: I think that’s what it was, Josh, don’t call me out. You’re on vacation anyways. You’re not going to hear this. But I think it was called the Santa Fe chicken salad. Or maybe the Chinese chicken salad. One of the chicken salads. They were all pretty good, though. But what all these places have always had in common is really cheesy drinks.
J: Of course.
A: Over the last few years, TGI Fridays leaned back into that with its $2 Margarita nights.
J: And Applebee’s.
A: Applebee’s as well. They’re both kind of going for it. There’s a debate as to what’s happening here. But the claim that some “food journalists” would make, is that people have gone to the suburbs during Covid, fallen back in love with the chain restaurants because they lived in these cities and didn’t have them. Which is bullsh*t. I’m sorry. But there’s a lot of chain restaurants in most cities, including New York. If you liked them that much, go. And then they’ve come back to the cities and they want those chain restaurant dishes because they felt safe. I kind of think it’s all bullsh*t. I just think that it’s the trend we’re going through right now.
J: Yeah, I do think we’re seeing it, though. We’re seeing these chef-y versions of them coming back to the city.
A: Yes. And so it’s everywhere. I kind of don’t think we need it. I’m not interested.
J: Not interested? Even from a food perspective?
A: No. I mean, I’d go to Outback and get a Bloomin’ Onion. I think they perfected it over 30 years and tons of laboratory sh*t. They know what they’re doing. I don’t need someone’s bloomin’ onion in Brooklyn. I’m sorry. I’m not interested in Patti Ann’s bloomin’ onion. I’m not interested in it.
J: I’ve got to say, I’ve had that bloomin’ onion. It was good. I remember a bloomin’ onion. It was much more expensive than a Bloomin’ Onion. And I think that’s the very interesting thing that we’re seeing with this trend, is these types of dishes — these comfort food dishes — coming back onto menus, but they’re wildly marked up.
A: Watching people make mozzarella sticks at a fancier place with their garlic bread that you would probably get at an Olive Garden or Magiannos or whatever for $17. When I want a pecan waffle, hash browns smothered and covered, toast and bacon, I’m going to go to Waffle House, y’all. I’m not going to go eat your sh*t that’s some place where you charge me 20 times the price for it. If Waffle House is what you want to do, you want to make it feel like Waffle House, open a Waffle House.
J: But I do think that they’re playing on people’s sense of sentimentality and nostalgia that everyone seems to be craving right now after the pandemic. Why is it happening? That’s what I want to know.
Z: I’m curious if there’s another element to this besides maybe this nostalgia thing. Is it that these drinks, these foods feel transgressive in a way to people? I’m just going to use this term. I don’t mean it judgmentally, but is it an appeal of this lowbrow food drink?
Z: And also the idea that, in many of these cases, we’re talking about things that are also extremely unhealthy. And we’ve sort of seen this backlash to health-conscious food and drink. It’s been talked about a lot with the Martini, that people are like, “f*ck wellness, I want to get drunk.” You may be seeing this with some of these food drinks that are very sweet and very sugar forward or alternatively have sugar in everything, even if it’s not always super apparent, like in the salad dressing or whatever. People are like, whether it’s post-pandemic, “I survived this and I don’t give a sh*t about my health in 40 years,” or whatever. People are just motivated by the fact that they are eating something that feels lowbrow. They’re eating something that’s overtly unhealthy. That may just be the mood that not all people are in, but that a segment of the population is in this place in time.
J: We’ve seen it in fashion as well, like the bucket hat.
A: Yeah. Come on with the bucket hat.
J: I love a bucket hat, but now they are very expensive Gucci bucket hats.
A: Juicy Couture is coming back.
J: Yeah. And I think it’s really fascinating.
A: It is. For me, what’s problematic about all of it and what I’m not into is that it’s just not good. It’s this reaction to, “We don’t want to be seen as foodies anymore. We don’t want to be seen as drinks snobs anymore.” We just want to get f*cked up and eat good stuff and eat food. But none of it’s good. These drinks aren’t good. They’re sugar bombs. They’re using spirits that are meant to be hidden, like vodka. I don’t really understand the appeal, especially when I think that it’s all at odds with each other. Because then we’re saying that we don’t care. But at the same time, there’s all these people that say they really do care. Let’s talk about where the drink comes from. Let’s talk about its provenance. People are still getting really excited about classic Martinis, which is a very different cocktail. So it’s weird that it’s happening at the same time.
J: At odds with that.
A: It’s really weird. It’s kind of unclear to me how it’s being driven. People want to blame Gen Z, but I don’t really think it’s Gen Z’s fault here. Because I actually think that Gen Z are the ones that are getting the most excited about Martinis and things like that. I actually think these are millennials, and if you look at who’s writing about these being the drinks of summer, they’re millennials. What is it that millennials have gone through that all of a sudden, we want to go eat at TGI Friday’s?
Z: Or is it just that people are having children and stuff and they’re like, “My kid’s having mozzarella sticks. I want mozzarella sticks, too.
J: That’s interesting.
A: That’s interesting, actually.
J: But aren’t millennials not having kids?
A: Yeah, exactly. A lot of them aren’t.
Z: I have two.
J: My brother told me that he’s been having Piña Coladas around the city recently.
A: There are a lot of them.
J: I was like, “What?”
A: There’s a lot of those.
A: Yeah, lots of Mudslides. I’m here for those. The one I’m not here for is the one that’s sitting in front of you right now.
J: What do you got, Adam?
A: OK, listen, I want to talk to you. Joanna and Zach are not here. So prior to the recording, I asked what we’re going to be drinking today. And Joanna initially told me about Smirnoff Ice. I have fond memories of Icing people, and I thought that could be fun and maybe we would Ice Keith and he would get down on one knee like you’re supposed to, and he would chug the Smirnoff and it’d be hilarious. We would all have a great Friday. I was kind of excited for this episode. And then Joanna said, “No, Adam, I’m making Dirty Shirleys.” And I said, “You must be f*cking with me, because there’s no way that you would ever do that to me. You know how I feel about this.” And then she proceeded to put a Dirty Shirley in front of me. I literally want nothing to do with this drink. I just think it’s so stupid. And no disrespect to the writer, I don’t know her, but she’s a f*cking food writer. And I’m sorry, there’s no way that she knows what a drinks trend is going to be. And every bartender I’ve talked to has been like, “There’s no way we will allow this to happen.” To be fair, in her article, she says that when everyone sees these being ordered, everyone else wants to order them. No, they don’t. These look like a f*cking extra-large Negroni.
J: I would order that, then.
A: I would order that. This is so bright red. This doesn’t seem refreshing to me at all. Literally, what this says is, “How do I bleach my insides more red than they probably already are?” And you know what?
Z: It looks like a hangover.
A: It just looks like a hangover in a glass.
J: Where are people seeing these? Are people actually ordering them? That’s what I’m confused about.
A: I don’t think they are. I have not seen them in one place. But The New York Times writes about it. It’s a trend. Oh, my God, this is terrible.
J: So this seems like something I would concoct in college.
A: This is the worst drink I’ve literally put on my palate in years.
J: But we had Ranch Water last week.
Z: Cacti is worse than this.
A: I know. This tastes like rancid poison. Did you put arsenic in this?
J: No, I put Tattersall Vodka in it.
A: OK. Can you tell everyone the recipe for this abomination?
J: Oh, sure. It’s 2 ounces of vodka. I used Tattersall, like I said. An ounce of grenadine.
A: An ounce of grenadine?
J: An ounce of grenadine. And then you top it up with Sprite or 7UP, and then you top it with a Maraschino cherry.
A: Did you use Sprite or 7UP?
J: I used Sprite? Is that what’s wrong with it?
A: No, I actually prefer Sprite to 7UP. It’s just bad, man.
J: Did you drink Shirley Temples as a kid?
A: When I was like, 4. No.
J: I did.
A: Maybe I had one when I was four at someone’s wedding or something. No, I didn’t drink Shirley Temples. I probably did and my parents said that’s never going to happen again because you guys see how animated I am already without sugars. Just think about what this would have been like for a 5-year-old Adam to have a Shirley Temple. Woohoo, let’s go. So, no, I did not have a Shirley Temple.
J: It’s reminding me of something and I just don’t know what it is.
Z: OK, so part of this to me is that I am vaguely intrigued by this concept, if you were to not go with the horrific chemical dye grenadine that is sort of associated with this.
J: Do you want a gourmet Dirty Shirley?
Z: Well, grenadine is actually one of these ingredients that, when properly made actually from pomegranate, I think is actually dramatically underappreciated in the cocktail world. It’s really delicious and makes it really tasty. It’s an important part of a lot of tropical drinks and it’s also just a fun thing to add into cocktails and play around with. I’ve actually made my own grenadine before. Although to make these, I borrowed some grenadine and Maraschino cherries from a bar owner, a friend of mine. Because I don’t carry either of the things at home and I don’t want to buy any. The basic template of the lemon-lime soda, actual grenadine and vodka is not inherently bad. But you’re putting in a truly horrific ingredient, i.e., mass produced grenadine into Sprite — I actually have 7UP but it doesn’t really matter — and, and then topping it with Maraschino cherries. Which to me, are actually the greatest abomination of all of these things. It’s truly horrific. And again, it haunts me to this day that I eat as many of them as I did as a child. Because I’m like Adam, to spoil things, I was not a Shirley Temple kid. I was a Roy Rogers kid. And I made a Dirty Roy Rogers for myself as well.
J: Isn’t that the same thing, but for boys?
Z: Well, it’s made with cola instead of lemon-lime soda. It’s the same thing for boys.
A: That’s true, actually. It was a long, long time ago. Those were the things, and then it became for all little kids. But yes, which is funny.
Z: I made one of those, too. Because I was like, “Well, if we’re doing this, I’m going to try the spiked version of the thing I actually drank as a kid.” And I will say that the Dirty Roy Rogers is better.
A: What did you spike it with? The same thing?
Z: I used vodka as well. If I were really making it for myself, I probably would use whiskey or something.
A: That’s what I’m wondering, because then it probably would be a little bit better anyway.
Z: The cola flavor marries much better in my eyes with the horrible, chemical taste of commercial grenadine. But the whole thing is just like, “Why?”
J: I feel like I need to go out and order one and see what happens.
A: No, you don’t. You just had the quintessential recipe written by this writer who doesn’t know anything about drinks.
J: No, I mean for the experience to see what a bartender’s response to me would be.
A: Get the f*ck out. You’re never welcome here again. Your name is mud.
J: I’m the editor-in-chief of VinePair.
A: Don’t you dare tell anyone that. That would be so bad.
Z: I guess we’re not going to have a Dirty Shirley roundup on the site in a few weeks.
A: The best vodkas for Dirty Shirley.
Z: Oh, it’s coming. Joanna’s going to do it.
A: Oh, I’ll write about it. None of this. But seriously, y’all, don’t drink this.
Z: To come back to what Joanna said when she first tasted it, this reminds her of her early drinking days. It does feel odd. To me, there’s that class of drinks that I think this would fall into that maybe the Smirnoff Ice falls into. We’ve talked about Mike’s Hard and other things that are, for some people, early drinking-stage beverages. Because they’re sweet and they’re therefore they cover up the taste of the alcohol more. They’re perhaps more aligned with the kinds of nonalcoholic beverages that people were drinking when they were younger. Not everyone transitions away from those things, but there is a little bit of that, “Do I really want to be drinking something really sweet and also laden with alcohol when I’m older?” That to me comes back to this whole thing of, it’s not young drinkers who are pushing this trend, I would be curious to meet the millennials who are like, “Yes, a 400-calorie ‘cocktail’ seems like a great idea to me.” It’s one thing to say, “F*ck, wellness.” It’s another thing to say, “I want 16 ounces of soda and grenadine and vodka.” That just seems like a bad idea.
J: I think it goes back to your earlier point and I can’t remember the word you use.
J: Transgressive, right. I think it’s actually ironic, right? We’re ordering this because it’s so bad, it’s good. We’re cool for ordering it. I don’t know.
A: The only thing that you could explain it as, is that perhaps the writer was out at a time that is not a predictor of the future, but it is the present in which everyone is like, “I’m going to order one of these. I hear they’re the thing to order.” Everyone tries them and are like, “These are f*cking disgusting,” and never orders them again. And by June, this trend will be dead. Because if you try one of these, I think you’re like, “I don’t know why I would ever want to drink this.”
J: Or that it’s funny to order.
A: And when your tummy hurts later.
J: Adam’s will, certainly.
A: When your tummy hurts later, you’re never going to have this again. It’s the worst drinking night of your life. Have you ever tried to go to the bathroom in a bar bathroom that you’re having this Dirty Shirley in? You don’t want to. I’m just saying, y’all, let’s not do this, OK? Let’s not do this.
J: We like good nostalgia.
A: Yeah, good nostalgia.
Z: Bloomin’ Onion, yay. Dirty Shirley, nay.
A: Let’s all go to Outback Steakhouse or Benihana’s. Let’s all go to Behinana’s together and do saki bombs.
J: And Benihana punch, yes.
A: Yes. And with that, have a great weekend.
J: Have a great weekend.
A: I will see you both on Monday.
J: See you Monday.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.