Sex and the City did for the cosmopolitan what James Bond did for martinis, Ernest Hemingway did for mojitos, and Shirley Temple did for ginger ale. It transformed a cocktail into an icon.
Pink, pretty and pert in her martini glass, the drink — definitely a female — also makes a lovely fashion accessory.
In the HBO series that comes to the big-screen Friday as Sex and the City: The Movie, cosmos were the preferred libation of four cute and cool New York women: Carrie, a columnist who struggled with relationships; Miranda, a lawyer who struggled with emotion; Charlotte, a socialite who struggled with love; and Samantha, a sexpot who struggled with ... well, who knows what Samantha struggled with? Their core group was often joined by a constellation of friends, some transitory, some constant, some remarkably mainstream, some flamboyant, all periodically judgmental and bitchy.
This weekend, four years since the TV show left the air, the big screen will at last reunite devotees (me among them) with their fabulous girlfriends. In honor of the long-awaited moment, I went in search of our fair city's best cosmopolitan. It is said that New York was the ”fifth lady“ on Sex and the City, but the cosmopolitan was so present it easily could have been the sixth.
As I began gathering an entourage of friends, each an approximation of an actual SATC character, to bar hop, seek out the spirit, if not the reality, of our mini-metropolis, and assess the local cocktail offerings, I couldn't help but wonder:
'What makes a cosmopolitan authentic?'
All cocktails, cosmo or otherwise, have the same origin, says Yuri Tako, publisher of www.cocktailtimes.com. During Prohibition, blending spirits with other flavors was essential to mask the awful taste of improvised illegal alcohol. Necessity became the mother of invention, leading to mixological creativity that survives to this day.
Gary Regan, co-publisher of the authoritative cocktail Web site www.ardentspirits.com, traces the cosmopolitan's beginnings in an article for Mixology: The Journal of the American Cocktail. He refers to the cosmo as ”the last true classic cocktail to be born in the 20th century.“ He cites its birthplace as Miami and its creator as Cheryl Cook.
Cook recalled serving her creation throughout the 1980s and '90s to customers Patricia Field and Rebecca Weinberg Field — who would later become the costume designers for Sex and the City.
Cook's original recipe consisted of Absolut Citron, a splash of triple sec, a drop of Rose's lime juice and just enough cranberry juice to, as she put it, ”make it "oh, so pretty in pink.'“ She topped it with a lemon twist.
Naturally, in its circuitous route from Florida to San Francisco and New York (and Lexington), bartenders put their own marks on the cocktail.
”That's how it goes with cocktails,“ said Regan, himself a former bartender. ”Someone invents a drink. Perhaps two or three or seven people invent the same drink at the same time. ... Every bartender who gets his or her hands on the recipe tweaks it a little.“
Which brings us to the bigger question:
'What makes a cosmopolitan good?'
That is obviously subjective. After visiting seven local bars to sample versions of a classic cosmopolitan, however, I identified three styles: sweet (the Charlottes), tart (the Samanthas and Mirandas), and the harmonious balance of the two (the Carries). I gave additional consideration to ingredients and beauty (remember, these girls are fashionistas) I also considered the drink's size because I think, and Tako agrees, that less is more. Who wants a lukewarm cocktail after it's been nursed for 60 minutes? There's a good reason why it's called ”happy hour.“