The digital age’s onset has allowed mixologists everywhere to stay hyper-connected — inspiring drinks pros to constantly push the boundaries to create the next best cocktail. Whether it’s icons like the Espresso Martini — reappearing decades after their invention — or riffs on popular classics, new and exciting concoctions are being created and shared every day.
But innovation can be a double-edged sword. The pursuit of clicks and likes has inspired some bartenders to take novelty too far, reconstructing the classics until they’re unrecognizable or experimenting with ingredients that may be harmful to our health. At what point have things been taken too far, transforming what was intended to be a creative expression into something more like an abomination? To help us figure out where to draw the line in the sand, we asked 10 bartenders which drinks they believe should be retired from cocktail menus everywhere.
“Please retire any and all cocktails containing charcoal from all menus! Charcoal has no value in a cocktail — its color is off-putting, the taste is gross, and it can actually affect medications taken and render them useless. Consider this very dangerous impact on our guests: Activated charcoal can stop your body from absorbing certain medications. If a guest takes a daily dose of necessary lifesaving drugs, these cocktails can render that dose useless. It also causes constipation and dehydration, plus other side effects, which is why activated charcoal is primarily used in emergency rooms as a lifesaving procedure for victims of poisoning.” —Mimi Burnham, bartender, NYC
“The Manhattan is a perfect cocktail because of its inherent simplicity — three ingredients in perfect balance. Why mess with perfection? I don’t need to see a newfangled variation of a Manhattan on a menu ever again. I don’t care that it has your favorite amaro or Chartreuse or, heaven forbid, Fernet — or even that it has a cute name like Carroll Gardens or LES or Greenpoint. We get it. Neighborhoods. The delicate precision of the classic will inevitably be blown out of balance and make for a less compelling cocktail. Don’t even get me started on the abomination that is the Perfect Manhattan, perhaps the least aptly named cocktail of all time.” —Jack Schramm, bartender, co-owner of Solid Wiggles Jelly Cakes, NYC
“This is a challenging one for me to answer, and I find myself thinking of a few options before thinking up counter-arguments shortly after. For example, I can think of a few super basic drinks that could be retired, like an Old Fashioned, which is now served at any cocktail bar and probably most dives, to be honest. However, every time I settle on this, I realize that these cocktails are necessary because how else are 21-year-olds going to get introduced to them? I currently can’t think of any reason to ‘retire’ anything without sounding inhospitable. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall basically said while paraphrasing Voltaire, ‘I may disagree with your choice to menu something, but I’ll defend to the death your right to print it.’” —Laura Newman, owner and beverage director, Queen’s Park, Birmingham, Ala.
“I think it’s time mainstream classic cocktails, such as an Old Fashioned, Moscow Mule, and Negroni, can be retired from cocktail menus. They just don’t need to be listed anymore. Unless there is something different about yours — some kind of unique spin you’ve put on it — they are prevalent enough that customers can call them by name, and bartenders will know what they’re talking about.” —Cari Hah, bar professional, Los Angeles
“In my opinion, it’s not one specific cocktail that is the culprit but rather a category of cocktails. On our own menu, we decided to retire all commonly called-for cocktails from menus in order to make space for other, lesser-known drinks. Something I see far too often at cocktail bars is that they list cocktails people will ask for regardless of whether it is on the menu or not. The Old Fashioned is the most prominent example of this crime. This is a drink that guests will blindly order from a bar with or without a menu. Every bar should have the ingredients to make some version of an Old Fashioned, and most bars have the ability to make a good one. It’s not a bad drink by any means — in fact, it is often a victim of its own successes. Guests will often rank a bar on their first visit based on how ‘good’ their Old Fashioned is compared to their usual haunt. Save the space on your menu for a specialty cocktail, or lesser-known classic, but be prepared to make a ton of Old Fashioneds anyway.” —Tony Lamperti, bartender, Houston
“Any Whiskey Sour made with sour mix should be retired. If you aren’t able to make one with the traditional ingredients, which is unlikely at peak hours when the bar is three-people deep, it’s not worth it. I can understand their purpose at, say, a dive bar, but truly any Whiskey Sour made with bottled sour mix is just a headache in a cup.” —Allyssa Heurich, bartender, Barley Craft Beer & Whiskey, Newark, Del.
“Establishments naming their specialty cocktails after the classic cocktail they are inspired from is a practice that should immediately be retired. For example, a Daiquiri. This should consist of rum, lime, and sugar. When you’re coconut fat-washing the rum, adding passion fruit and pineapple juice, don’t still call it a Daiquiri on the menu. It’s fine to put what style of drink it is, but when you do this, you are miseducating your guests and setting them up for failure at future establishments where they’ll be confused at the drink put in front of them when they order the same thing. If I have a guest order a Daiquiri from me and I make them the classic drink while they’re expecting the riff they had at another bar, they are going to be disappointed by not getting the drink they asked for, and they may even think I’m not good at my job. It sets our guests and fellow bartending peers up for potentially bad interactions. On a much more personal note, I wish people would stop putting the Aviation on menus. It’s an old classic I wish would die. It tastes like soap in your mouth, and you can’t convince me otherwise.” —Tess Sawyer, bar director, The Spare Room, Los Angeles
“I think that a menu should reflect not only what the team who put it together loves and has dedicated time and attention to perfecting, but it should also reflect what a guest might be interested in. The drinks that should be retired from the menu are those that the team making them no longer find interesting or engaging. A good beverage menu will be one that the bar and service team fully stands behind and is excited to share with guests. For example, rather than assuming that people who order classic whiskey cocktails will order them even if they’re not listed, we workshopped a blend of four different whiskeys for our house Old Fashioned. Not only can this make Old Fashioned drinkers more comfortable ordering their favorite classic, but it allows room for exploration and connection with the bartending team that created it.” —Resa Mueller, bartender, R & D Philly, Philadelphia
“We’re a whiskey bar known for our classic Whiskey Sour, and we firmly believe the classics will never go out of style. That being said, it may be tasty, but top of our retirement chart is the Espresso Martini — and not just because it contains vodka. Our experience is that the build expectation is wildly inconsistent from customer to customer, and, of course, there is the quality and consistency of the espresso. Arriverdeci, Espresso Martini! Our runner-up is the Cosmo, unless you own a cranberry farm. Too often [made with] juice from the gun, the noble roots have been sadly compromised over the years. A name that sets high expectations for global enlightenment, alas, not met.” —Ian Cross, bartender, The Trestle Inn, Philadelphia
“In my opinion, I think people should drink whatever they want. As a bartender, I don’t think it’s my business to tell people what they should and should not order. But with that being said, at my bar, we don’t like to put anything super ubiquitous on our menu. Someone who drinks a lot of Old Fashioneds or a lot of Manhattans, for example, is going to come in and order that regardless of its presence on the menu. So we like to keep our menu staff-driven, which is really cool because our entire team gets to contribute a little something, and it makes for interesting conversations with our guests and opens up the opportunity to introduce them to something new they may not have been interested in before.” —Ali Martin, head bartender, The Up & Up, NYC