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The Birthplaces of Famous Cocktails in the U.S. [MAP]

From the New Orleans’ historic French Quarter to the bustling bars of a growing New York City to California and its golden era of disco drinks, this country is brimming with cocktail history. That’s why it should be no surprise that a plethora of popular cocktails were created stateside. While some of the more modern creations like the Paper Plane and the Penicillin have very straightforward stories, the origins of older drinks like the Mint Julep are murkier — and many are still in dispute today.

As these drinks evolve and take on new personas in our current drinking culture, it’s sometimes easy to forget their roots. But don’t worry, we’ve mapped out the most iconic cocktails created in the U.S. to help you brush up on your American drinking history. Read on to discover which classic cocktail might be from your hometown.


Lemon Drop

Inspired by the old-school hard candies of the 1800’s, the Lemon Drop was invented by Norman Hobday at San Francisco bar Henry Africa’s in the early 1970s. The vodka-based drink also contains orange liqueur, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and simple syrup. Since its creation, the Lemon Drop has devolved into a shot of chilled vodka served with a sugar-coated lemon wedge — a far cry from the original presentation in a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass.

Mai Tai

Though the Mai Tai is popular due to its association with Hawaii and beachside vacations, the original cocktail was actually created in Oakland, Calif., by Victor Bergeron — or Trader Vic, as he was known in the bar world. The drink originally used Wray and Nephew 17, a 17-year aged Jamaican rum, as the base. After the drink took off, supply of the rare rum began to dwindle, so Trader Vic created his own rum blend to replicate the flavor profile. To this day, many bars still make their own proprietary blends for their Mai Tai expressions. Though it’s rare that they follow the rest of Vic’s original recipe that included lime juice, orgeat syrup, orange liqueur, and mint, as many modern bars opt for a basic blend of orange juice and rum.

Tommy’s Margarita

If you’re making Margaritas but don’t have any orange liqueur on hand, the Tommy’s Margarita is a godsend. This easy-to-make riff on the traditional Margarita can be traced back to San Francisco’s Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant. There, in the 1990s, bartender Julio Bermejo originally made the swap from orange liqueur to agave nectar, and beverage pros and at-home bartenders have been loving the fresh take on the drink ever since.


This famous tropical drink was created by an equally iconic person in the tiki cocktail movement: Donn Beach. He first crafted the Zombie in 1934 at his Hollywood bar, Don the Beachcomber. As the establishment was a hotspot for local celebrities, the drink immediately caught some attention. Since the drink was so powerful — with a blend of three types of rum, apricot brandy, falernum liqueur, grenadine, lime, and pineapple juice — Beach was known to only serve two per customer, which only made it all the more appealing.


Rum Runner

The Rum Runner is an homage to the early days of Prohibition, when captains would illegally run rum from the islands of Bimini to Florida. It’s only right that this drink was created in Islamorada, an island in the Florida Keys, by “Tiki John” Ebert in the 1950s. The tropical drink blends both light and dark rums with both banana and blackberry liqueur, pineapple juice, orange juice, and a splash of grenadine.

Sex on the Beach

It’s no surprise this breezy, beachy drink comes from the shores of the Sunshine State. However, there is some dispute when it comes to the origins of this provocatively named cocktail. One widely accepted version of the tale is that a spirits company called National Distribution hosted a cocktail competition during spring break in 1987 to raise awareness of a new product, peach schnapps. The brand offered $1,000 to the Fort Lauderdale bar that sold the most peach schnapps, and an additional $100 to the bartender who made the most sales. Ted Pizio of the local Confetti Bar took inspiration from his spring break surroundings to create the Sex on the Beach, which combined the peach schnapps with vodka, orange juice, and grenadine. It’s unknown whether or not Pizio won the competition, but the drink rapidly rose to popularity among the college students who sampled it in Florida and recreated it when they returned home.


Paper Plane

Named for M.I.A.’s hit track, the Paper Plane flew onto the scene in 2008. Even though Sam Ross of New York City’s Milk & Honey designed the drink, it was first introduced at the Violet Hour in Chicago, cementing it as an Illinois original. The combination of bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and lemon juice has since gone global, and can be found on the menus of high-end bars around the world.

New York Sour

Contradictory to its name, the New York Sour was invented in Chicago in the 1880s. The classic drink didn’t always go by this name, either: It was known as the Continental Sour, Southern Sour, and the Brunswick Sour before it was finally dubbed the New York Sour. This visually appealing riff on the classic Whiskey Sour includes a red wine float that adds an extra punch of complexity.



Though it’s a surprising shade of green, this blend of green crème de menthe, white crème de cacau, and half-and-half, is easy to love. The minty and creamy concoction was first conceived in 1919 at New Orleans’ Tujague’s, which remains one of the oldest bars in the country. Philibert Guichet, whose family purchased the restaurant from founders Guillaume and Marie Tujague in the 1910s, designed the Grasshopper for a cocktail competition in New York City. Though legend has it that it didn’t win the top prize, the retro cocktail has remained popular, and it’s even had a resurgence over the past few years along with the trend of nostalgic cocktails.


The Hurricane was invented during Prohibition at famous New Orleans bar Pat O’Brien’s. The bar was operating as a speakeasy at the time, and guests had to give the password “storm’s brewin” to be admitted. The boozy combination of light rum, dark rum, grenadine, and fruit juices was served in the bar’s signature glass that was based on the shape of an upside-down kerosene lamp.

Ramos Gin Fizz

Yet another New Orleans classic, this impressive, towering cocktail was first introduced in the late 19th century by New Orleans bartender Henry Charles Ramos. This labor-intensive drink requires an extended period of shaking in order to achieve the desired soufflé top. Legend has it that Ramos had to hire “shaker boys” to assist the bartenders with the bicep-straining shaking.


While New Orleans is clearly home to many of America’s most celebrated cocktails, there might be none more iconic than the Sazerac. Yet its origins are still heavily debated. The story goes that Antoine Amédée Peychaud, the creator of his namesake bitters, created a combination of bitters, sugar, and brandy in the mid-1800s. But as phylloxera started to wipe out vineyards in France, the Cognac supply dried up, and the drink’s brandy core was replaced with American rye whiskey. Improvements were made on the cocktail until it reached the potent and aromatic version we love today, and it’s now made with an absinthe rinse.

Vieux Carré

This cocktail was first recorded at the New Orleans Hotel Monteleone’s famous Carousel Bar in 1937. Named after the city’s French Quarter, the Vieux Carré’s ingredients represent all the different cultures that were thriving in this area at the time: American rye whiskey, French Cognac and Bénédictine, sweet vermouth for the Italians, and bitters to represent the Caribbean.


Last Word

The Last Word really has two homes: While it was created at the Detroit Athletic Club in the early 1900s, it was really the late Seattle-based bartender Murray Stenson who revived this old-school drink and made it well regarded in the modern cocktail renaissance. The equal-parts mixture of gin, green Chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur, and lime juice has been beloved by the cocktail community ever since.

New York


The Cosmopolitan isn’t just associated with NYC because of its significant presence on the show “Sex and the City.” Industry veteran Toby Cecchini put the drink on the map in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s while bartending at quintessential New York establishment The Odeon. But it was after the drink was featured on TV that it really took off, and it seemed like just about every glass in Manhattan was filled with the visually appealing mixture of Absolut Citron, Cointreau, lime juice, and cranberry juice.


There’s no cocktail more defining of New York City than the Manhattan itself. The cocktail is believed to have been invented in the 1870s or the early 1880s on its namesake island, but where exactly is still brought into question. The most common theory is that it was invented at the Manhattan Club, where a bartender swapped out the sugar in the traditional whiskey cocktail (now known as the Old Fashioned) for sweet vermouth.


The Penicillin was first fashioned in 2005 by bartender Sam Ross at NYC’s Milk & Honey. Ross was experimenting with riffs on the Gold Rush when he split the sweetener base between honey syrup and fresh-pressed ginger juice and replaced bourbon with a blended Scotch. He also floated an additional quarter-ounce of peaty Scotch atop the drink to give the aroma some gusto. The ginger and honey flavors that are often associated with curing the common cold prompted the cocktail’s name.


Clover Club

The Clover Club is a pre-Prohibition cocktail thought to be invented at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. However, the stunning pink drink is now most commonly associated with its namesake bar in Brooklyn that pioneering bartender Julie Reiner opened in 2008. Reiner had discovered the cocktail in an old book, and set out to perfect it. And while the bar’s popularity put this combination of gin, lemon juice, raspberry syrup, and egg white back on the map, the drink still holds ties to its home state.

Puerto Rico

Piña Colada

The Piña Colada is the iconic cocktail of Puerto Rico, but there are bartenders at competing San Juan bars who lay claim to its creation. The famous Caribe Hilton Hotel is often given the credit, as it claims bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero created the drink in 1954, but a bar two miles down the road, Barrachina, believes it created the drink in 1963. Though we might never know the drink’s true origins, we can all agree that the Piña Colada is the ideal beach cocktail.

Washington, D.C.

Gin Rickey

It’s no surprise that the history of this Washington, D.C., creation is tied to politics. Legend has it that George Williamson, bartender at the Shoomaker’s bar, crafted this refreshing highball in 1883 for a bar regular: Democratic lobbyist and retired Confederate army colonel Joseph Rickey. It was meant to be a quaffable cocktail that could help cool down the politicians during a particularly sweltering D.C. summer. The original iteration had whiskey for its base, but the recipe evolved to feature gin instead. The combination of gin, lime juice, and club soda is now an essential part of D.C.’s history.


Long Island Iced Tea

While this classic party-starter tastes like iced tea, we can assure you there’s no tea involved in this booze-filled concoction. Robert “Rosebud” Butt claims to have invented this wild mixture of vodka, tequila, rum, triple sec, gin, and Coke as part of a cocktail contest in 1972 on Long Island, N.Y. A conflicting story, though, places the drink’s creation in the 1920s in Long Island, Tenn.

Mint Julep

Julep cocktails have a long history that traces back to the Middle East, where the medicinal mixtures of water and infused syrup were commonplace. Though the modern iteration of this drink has since been irrevocably tied to Derby Day, some of the first accounts of its existence can be tied to Virginia. Even if the drink’s history in America is lost somewhere in the 18th century, it remains an iconic and important drink to Kentucky today.

Bloody Mary

The Bloody Mary is another drink with foggy origins, but this time, the dispute spans the Atlantic. Both the American entertainer George Jessel and French bartender Fernand Petiot claim to have invented this cocktail. Jessel believed that he first thought up the mix of vodka and tomato juice in Palm Beach, Fla., and he has long been associated with the drink publicly. Petiot, though, maintained that he was the first to add the drink’s signature spices and sauces that made it a true Bloody Mary. Further, Petiot worked at both the St. Regis bar in New York City and Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, so there’s still a debate today over whether it was invented while he was in the U.S. or France.

*Image retrieved from Guys Who Shoot – stock.adobe.com

The article The Birthplaces of Famous Cocktails in the U.S. [MAP] appeared first on VinePair.

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