Gentle readers, take note: Though many an online article will tell you that your bartender thinks you’re an idiot for ordering a particular drink, most good bartenders don’t much care what you order.
There may have been a time during the cocktail renaissance when your order might have prompted a sneer. Those were the uneasy years, the cocktail-era equivalent of that moment in a horror movie when the terrified teenagers pile into a car that won’t immediately start, and you know that the undead ax-happy murderer is about to lurch out of the cornfield behind them. Only the monster was an Appletini. We weren’t sure it was really dead yet.
But now that we’ve peeled down the long dirt road, watching the Appletini and its ilk fade into the distance, leaving behind the industrial sour mixes and pouches of Strawberry Daiquiri syrup, it’s time to breathe a little easier. Have a Piña Colada, have a frosé, have an Aperol Spritz. Make whatever you like.
I spent a good chunk of college drinking Fuzzy Navels. That cloying blend of orange juice and peach schnapps is what I saw in my own rearview mirror as I started to write professionally about drinks. I imagined being on some cocktail event panel, extolling rye Manhattans and classic Daiquiris, when some vaguely familiar woman would stand up and say, “You look familiar. Didn’t you used to brag about the Fuzzy Navels you made with those tubes of frozen orange juice concentrate?”
Part of what’s gotten me over these worries is the realization of how much this early drink-shaming suggested that certain people in the cocktail community decided what qualified as a proper drink. And to some extent, that’s fine. Drinks experts know a lot about distillation and cocktail history and technique. They know about many things, but what they do not know—what they cannot know—is what you like. An expert on celery can explain its culinary role in the French mirepoix and its Cajun cousin, holy trinity. They can describe the celery leaves found in the tombs of pharaohs, the vases of celery served in 19th century restaurants. But the greatest celery expert in the world cannot persuade me to enjoy celery, because I hate it.
“On Wednesdays we wear pink,” the movie Mean Girls proclaimed, and we rolled our eyes over the peer pressure, while telling everyone that vodka was pointless, that bitter was best and that on Wednesdays we drink Aviations (even though, as many in the cocktail community came to realize, most Aviations evoke the smothering embrace of your most overly perfumed great aunt).
As happy as I am to see many unfortunate drinks recede, I’m happier to see the judgmental phase of the cocktail renaissance fading. When I feel embarrassed about my Fuzzy Navel days, I mentally revise 1 Corinthians 13:11: When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I drank as a child, but when I became an adult I put away childish things. I used to think the Fuzzy Navel was the childish thing, but now I see it differently: In a world full of truly awful stuff, the childish thing is making judgments about drinks that give others momentary pleasure.
Am I arguing that the Fuzzy Navel is a good cocktail? Definitely not. But I’d still drink one before I’d drink an Aviation.
This article first appeared in the September/October 2019 print edition.
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