Vintage cocktails: The origin stories of your favourite drinks

When Happy Hour strikes, we all know that it’s hard to resist a cocktail (or two). Whether we have trained our palette to appreciate the bitter sophistication of a Negroni, or we feel no shame in ordering an extravagant Piña Colada with all the trimmings, we all succumb to the two-for-one temptation every now and again.

From Woo Woo to Weng Weng, cocktail menus offer something for everyone, whether you want to feel transported to a tropical beach or a sophisticated bar. But how much do you actually know about the origins of these concoctions? Many classic cocktails are well-rooted in history and a lot of them have truly stood the test of time. Let’s take a walk (or a stagger) down memory lane and find out what each decade has contributed to our happy hour menu.

Early 1900s — Old Fashioned

When the Old Fashioned was invented it was more of a “needs must” than a culinary endeavour. People were getting sick and tired of low-quality booze, so they took action. Sugar and bitters did wonders for the previously undrinkable liquor and an all-time classic was inadvertently created. Simply mix your chosen whisky with sugar, bitters, and a few dashes of water to recreate this classy drink.

1920s — Singapore Sling

This delightfully fruity drink originated, as you’d expect, in colonial Singapore. The famous Raffles Hotel was the birthplace of this drink in 1915, when disenchanted colonial wives wanted to find a socially-acceptable way to drink anything other than tea in public. The Long Bar at Raffles became a haven for women who wanted to get away from the muggy Singapore heat and enjoy a refreshing cocktail. This gin-based beverage also consists of grenadine, bitters, Cointreau, pineapple juice, lime juice, and cherry liquor.

1930s — Bloody Mary

The origin of this cocktail, famed for being an excellent hangover cure, is blurry. There are many different claims associated with this drink, but the general consensus is that it was invented during the 1930s in New York’s 21 Club. The drink was originally a half and half mix of vodka and tomato juice, but has since been spiced up with different additions, such as Tabasco.

1940s — Mai Tai

In 1944, in a small restaurant in Oakland, San Francisco, Victor Jules Bergeron first concocted the unique mix of flavours that we know as a Mai Tai. After mixing his brand-new drink, he tested it on two of his friends from Tahiti. After taking a sip, one of his friends exclaimed, “mai tai-roa a é” which translates from Tahitian as “out of this world — the best!” Thus, the fruity daiquiri style drink was christened ‘Mai Tai’.

1950s — Martini

The martini cocktail is iconic due to the shape of its glass. This drink was popularised by Ian Fleming’s 007 books in which James Bond famously asks for his martini “shaken, not stirred”. Again, the exact origins of this drink are dubious, but many believe that it was initially created in the town of Martinez, California. As the story goes, the drink was first mixed for a miner who asked for something special in return for a nugget of gold. The bar tender made what we now know as a martini, and the rest is history.

1970s — Harvey Wallbanger

A famed disco drink of the 1970s, everything about this bold and bright drink screams ‘party’. Originally, this drink was made using vodka and orange juice. However, it was only with the addition of Galliano, an Italian liqueur, that this drink really took off.

1980s — Piña Colada

The Piña Colada is a beloved tropical drink that was first concocted in Puerto Rico. The combination of rum, cream of coconut, and pineapple juice makes for a frothy and refreshing drink that has been a favourite ever since its popularisation in the 1980s. According to the Caribe Hilton, a premiere San Juan hotel, the cocktail was first created by Ramon “Monchito” Marrero, a bartender at Beachcombers bar. The drink supposedly took months, and hundreds of different combinations, to perfect.

1990s — Long Island Iced Tea

The infamous Long Island Iced Tea was first created in Long Island (where else?) during prohibition, but it really came into its own much later, in the 1990s. The dangerously high alcohol content of this drink makes for a banging headache the next day, but if you want a party drink that will pack a punch, why not opt for rum, gin, vodka, triple sec, and tequila?

2000s – Cosmopolitan

This bright pink beverage came into its own during the late 90s and early 00s. Kitsch and fun, this drink characterised high-end parties and became a staple of the 2000s. This drink is thought to have evolved from the 1960s drink, the Harpoon. The Harpoon was invented by Ocean Spray, as a way to market their cranberry juice towards adults as well as children. Later, Cointreau was added to the Harpoon’s vodka, cranberry, and lime combination and the Cosmopolitan was born.

So, if you’re planning on throwing a cocktail party, why not pull out all the stops? Go all out on a retro theme and adorn yourself in antique jewellery to really look the part. You’ll feel sophisticated and wonderfully refreshed after any of these historical beverages.