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These Bars Invented Your Favorite Classic Cocktails

Helping cocktail lovers visit the places of origin for their favorite drinks.

Have you ever wondered where your favorite classic cocktails originally came from? The bartenders that crafted them for the first time before they made their way onto menus around the world? Some stories about these drinks have been lost to time, while others’ origins are debated. Separate fact from fiction by visiting these bars around the globe and tasting for yourself.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Visita Juarez
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Margarita

WHERE: The World-Famous Kentucky Bar (Juarez, Mexico)

The classic Mexican cocktail is made of tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur with an optional salt rim. Where it comes from is the source of national debate, but the place that claims it most strongly is The World Famous-Kentucky Bar in Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. The bar opened in 1922 and was a popular spot for Americans looking to get their drink on during Prohibition. It gets its name from a distillery in Mexico that created “Kentucky bourbon” during this time.

But plenty of other places in Mexico say they created the beloved drink. A now-closed restaurant outside Tijuana also made the claim around 1938 as another did the same in Acapulco. It was in 1977 that the beverage took on new heights when Jimmy Buffet released his song “Margaritaville,” launching a global empire based around the cocktail.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Caribe Hilton
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Piña Colada

WHERE: Barrachina Restaurant (San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Long before the Rupert Holmes tune about piña coladas and getting caught in the rain, the cocktails were being mixed throughout San Juan, Puerto Rico. The frozen drink is made of rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice, garnished with a pineapple wedge or a maraschino cherry. It’s no wonder it’s the official cocktail of the islands.

Two locations claim the drink as their own. The first is the Barrachina Restaurant, which has a plaque outside marking it as the home of the piña colada. Spanish bartender Don Ramon Portas Mingot was said to have created the drink there in 1963. But in 1954, the Caribe Hilton Hotel said that bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero came up with the concoction. Whichever version you believe, we recommend trying one at each place to compare.

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Sazerac

WHERE: Sazerac Bar (New Orleans, Louisiana)

New Orleans is a cocktail lover’s city, creating countless drinks like the sugary Hurricane and Hand Grenade so frequently consumed on Bourbon Street, but it’s the Sazerac that is the official cocktail of the city.

In 1850, spirit importer Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar, Merchants Exchange Coffee House, to focus on bringing Sazerac de Forge et Fils cognac to America. It was purchased and renamed the Sazerac Coffee House for the spirit. Around the same time, Creole immigrant Antoine Peychaud was mixing a drink in his pharmacy with the cognac, absinthe, and his own brand of bitters. Thus, the Sazerac was born.

Sazerac is now a brand of rye whiskey produced by the namesake company to be used in the cocktails. In 2019, the company opened the Sazerac House, a historic building turned immersive experience featuring free exhibits, tours, and tastings of their flagship drink. The nearby Roosevelt Hotel also has its Sazerac Bar, which is celebrating 70 years since the “storming of the Sazerac,” a day when women, who had previously been barred from entering, forced their way in to be served.

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PHOTO: Dietmar Rauscher/iStock Editorial
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Bellini

WHERE: Harry's Bar (Venice, Italy)

Italy has a number of quintessential beverages, but sparkling wine features heavily in many of them. In 1931, Giuseppe Cipriani opened Harry’s Bar near Venice’s Piazza San Marco. Everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Orson Welles chose this place to drink and mingle. Since then, it’s continued to sell traditional Venetian dishes along with the Bellini, a cocktail made of Prosecco and white peach puree.

It quickly gained popularity and was served at their other locations, but its notoriety comes at a price. The cocktail will set you back over $20 and you’ll be surrounded by other tourists. For a more relaxing experience, head to the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, which uses the same recipe straight from Mr. Cipriani himself.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Trader Vic’s
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Mai Tai

WHERE: Trader Vic’s (Oakland, California)

After World War II, the United States was launched into a tiki and Polynesian craze with restaurants and bars, but perhaps none has been as iconic as Trader Vic’s, which opened in 1934 in Emeryville. Owner Victor J. Bergeron is credited with inventing the Mai Tai, named for a Tahitian word meaning “good.” It is made of rum, Curaçao liqueur, orgeat syrup, and lime juice, ideally served in a tiki glass with a fruit garnish.

Since then, the Trader Vic’s brand has spread across the United States and even the globe, with locations in Munich, Doha, and Tokyo. All have the signature decor, including bamboo paneling and funky light fixtures, along with Polynesian-inspired cuisine cooked in the wood-fired ovens.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Willard InterContinental
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Mint Julep

WHERE: The Willard Hotel (Washington, DC)

While the mint julep is often associated with the Kentucky Derby, the drink was actually created in America’s Capital. Some versions of the drink had been used for various ailments since the founding of America, but Senator Henry Clay is credited with its mass appeal when he ordered it at the Round Robin Bar at Washington DC’s Willard Hotel, a hotel that dates back to 1818.

The cocktail is usually made with your chosen brand of Kentucky bourbon, something as divisive as political opinions, along with crushed ice, mint, and simple syrup. It can be served in a silver or pewter cup or a standard highball glass. Today it’s the Round Robin Bar’s signature cocktail, served with Maker’s Mark.

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PHOTO: Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock
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Mojito

WHERE: La Bodeguita del Medio (Havana, Cuba)

While the original creator of the mojito is up for debate, one thing is for sure: it was definitely made in Havana, Cuba. Some say it was a drink created by the slaves that worked the sugar plantations while others insist it was the Native American tribes that concocted it. The modern mojito is traditionally made of white rum, lime juice, mint, sugar or simple syrup, and soda water.

La Bodeguita del Medio certainly has the most popular version in Havana, mainly for its ties to Hemingway who famously wrote on the wall of the bar; make sure to sign your name alongside his. It is also known for its delicious criollo cuisine.

INSIDER TIPWhile in Cuba, be sure to try the Daiquiri, which also has its origins here. Named for a place near Santiago de Cuba, the original iteration is nothing like those neon-colored slushies pumped out of places like Fat Tuesday’s. Instead, it’s made simply with white rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. La Floridita is a popular spot for the drink.

 

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Raffles Singapore
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Singapore Sling

WHERE: Raffles Hotel (Singapore)

Singapore is known for over-the-top experiences, especially for those of us who saw Crazy Rich Asians. But the Raffles Hotel is in a league all its own for cocktail lovers. The Colonial-style hotel opened in 1887, hosting celebrities like authors Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham. In 1915, the hotel’s Long Bar was the site of the creation of the Singapore Sling, their take on the gin sling that was popular at the time.

The drink is made with gin, cherry brandy, orange liqueur, Bénédictine, Grenadine, pineapple juice, lime juice, and bitters. The original Singapore Sling will set you back at least $30, but that’s the price you pay for the authentic version, so sip slowly.

INSIDER TIPChow down on peanuts and toss the shells on the floor. Despite the bar’s swanky interior, it’s totally allowed.

 

old fashioned
PHOTO: Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress [Public domain]
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Old Fashioned

WHERE: The Pendennis Club (Louisville, Kentucky)

As the name implies, the Old Fashioned is one of the oldest cocktails in America, dating back to the 1800s. A recipe similar to it was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1880, referring to “old fashioned cocktails.” The Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky claims to have invented it for a bourbon distiller, but it was at the Waldorf Astoria New York in New York City that it gained notoriety.

The favorite of Mad Men’s Don Draper is made with a bitters-soaked sugar cube, a splash of water, and either bourbon or rye whiskey. Popular garnishes include orange slices or peels and maraschino cherries. It’s then served in, what else, an old-fashioned glass.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of The Knickerbocker
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Martini

WHERE: Knickerbocker Hotel (New York, New York)

A favorite of everyone from Frank Sinatra to James Bond, the martini is perhaps the most classic cocktail in the United States. There are multiple variations, including the French, vodka, and Vesper martinis. The modern martini is made with gin and dry vermouth and garnished with an olive or lemon twist.

The origin stories also vary. Martini is a brand of Italian vermouth that is often used. Another tale says it’s a variation of the “Martinez cocktail” from an area near San Francisco. All date to the early 1900s, when it became a popular drink of the Jazz Age. The first dry martini is believed to have been created at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City. Order a martini at Charlie Palmer, the restaurant inside the hotel.

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PHOTO: Mitch Barrie from Costa Mesa, CA, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons
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French 75

WHERE: Harry’s New York Bar (Paris, France)

Harry’s New York Bar was founded in Paris in 1911. The Grands Boulevards bar is covered in the pennants of American colleges and universities, popular with the expat and study abroad crowd. The wood-paneled space was a watering hole famous with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, of course, from their time in the “Lost Generation.” Gershwin was said to have composed An American in Paris at the bar’s piano.

Bartender (and namesake) Harry MacElhone is credited with creating the French 75, one of the most well-known champagne cocktails. Named for a field gun in World War II, it includes gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and Champagne. MacElhone later worked at the Plaza Hotel in New York and is credited with creating other well-known cocktails including the Bloody Mary and the sidecar. His descendants continue to run the bar today.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of the Odeon NYC
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Cosmopolitan

WHERE: The Odeon (New York, New York)

Long before Carrie Bradshaw and her Sex and the City contemporaries made them popular, there was a cocktail called The Daisy that was a favorite in the 1930s. But in 1988, a bartender at The Odeon in New York City combined Absolut Citron vodka with Cointreau orange liqueur, cranberry juice, and fresh lime juice. The drink is still on the menu of this Tribeca hotspot.

You can get the drink just about anywhere in New York, but fans from the show should head to O’Nieals in Little Italy to enjoy the pink concoction. On the show, it served as the location for Scout, the bar that was owned by Steve and Aidan, but in real life, it had a Prohibition-era tunnel to the police station so that officers could drink on the down-low.

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PHOTO: Yayo López / PROMPERÚ
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Pisco Sour

WHERE: Bar Maury (Lima, Peru)

Both Chile and Peru claim to be the originator of the pisco sour, but the latter has certainly staked its claim most strongly. The cocktail is made with pisco, a distilled grape brandy created in both countries, with egg white, simple syrup, and lime juice, topped with a dash of Angostura bitters.

Originally created by an American bartender in 1913 at Morris’ Bar in Lima, the cocktail went through a few versions over the years. The bar closed a decade later but the recipe carried on through the bartenders. One of them went on to work at the bar at the Hotel Maury in Lima, which now calls itself the home of the drink. It continues to serve the cocktail.

You can also find it throughout Peru, including the town of Pisco, where the spirit is made, and Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu. The Museo del Pisco is a popular place to enjoy the drink if you’re short on time, with four locations in the country. No matter where you imbibe, your drink will surely come with cancha, a South American snack of toasted corn nuts.

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PHOTO: Jamie Gladman
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Painkiller

WHERE: Soggy Dollar Bar (British Virgin Islands)

The quintessential stop for seafaring visitors, the Soggy Dollar Bar welcomes visitors to the British Virgin Islands in style. The open-air beachfront watering hole allows guests straight from the water, bellying up to the bar that is covered in dollar bills and other memorabilia.

The Painkiller was created here in the 1970s and is trademarked by Pusser’s Rum, an important ingredient. It also includes pineapple juice, coconut cream, and orange juice. It’s shaken, poured over ice, and topped with grated nutmeg, enjoyed quickly. The bar’s most unique tradition is the Painkiller Board, where people can order and pre-purchase a drink for their friends ahead of time, which can be claimed whenever they arrive.

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Black Russian

WHERE: Hotel Metropole (Brussels, Belgium)

Predating the more famous White Russian, the Black Russian cocktail was created in 1949 at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels, which opened in 1895 in a former bank building. The drink was made in honor of Perle Mesta, the United States Ambassador to Luxembourg under President Harry Truman.

Made of vodka and coffee liqueur and served on the rocks, it can still be found on the restaurant’s menu today. It’s named for the color and origin of the main spirit. The White Russian, on the other hand, adds milk or cream.

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Blue Hawaii

WHERE: Hilton Hawaiian Village (Honolulu, Hawaii)

Despite the names of many tropical and tiki drinks, few actually originated anywhere in the Pacific; the Blue Hawaii is one of the few that did. Blue Hawaii was invented in 1957 by the head bartender of the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu after a representative from Bols, the Dutch distiller, asked him to create a new beverage incorporating their new Blue Curaçao liqueur.

In addition to the blue liqueur that gives the drink its name, the Blue Hawaii is made with vodka, sweet and sour mix, and club soda. Rum and pineapple juice can also be added. The drink is still on the menu at the Waikiki hotel’s Tropics Bar & Grill, even offered in pitcher form.

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