Your Favorite Trashy Cocktail Is Now Incredibly Highbrow

How bartenders are turning the Appletini, Jello Shot, Pickleback and Long Island Iced Tea into more elevated affairs

March 27, 2024 1:39 pm
Jello Shots from Solid Wiggles, served at the NYC bar Milady's
Jello Shots from Solid Wiggles, served at the NYC bar Milady's
Lauryn Siegal

I have no issue with so-called lowbrow drinks. They’re nostalgic and, no surprise, oftentimes tasty. But a little effort to elevate these cocktails can go a long way — swap in better liquors/liqueurs, fresh juices and find some balance among the ingredients, and you can still enjoy a 7&7 or Long Island Iced Tea

“I’ve always been fascinated with those cocktails of the ‘80s and ‘90s that people still request,” says Marshall Minaya, the beverage director at New York’s Madame George, which offers several variations on trashy staples, including the Miami Vice, Nutcrackers, Lychee Martinis and more. “But the ingredients for those aren’t stocked too much at bars, especially at my own places. So spinning these cocktails of a different era on their heads is always a fun challenge for me.”

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The new drinks still have to offer some semblance of what made the original iconic. “I think the appeal of our take on the 7&7 lies in the simplicity of keeping the structure the same while increasing the quality of the individual components,” says Porchlight Beverage Director Ben Brown. “The experience of elevating a dive bar call to this level creates a new appreciation for our guests.”

One of the most interesting takes on the new good wave of old bad drinks? The elevated Jello shot, as best realized by Julie Reiner, co-owner of NYC dive bar turned cocktail den Milady’s. “I had Jello shots that were made with 151-proof spirits, so they were more of a nostalgic thing for me than something enjoyable,” she says. “The trend of nostalgia is making the rounds — I think people want to drink familiar flavors that play to their youth. Plus, they’re fun!” 

While that Jello shot recipe is a bit difficult to make at home — Milady’s works with Solid Wiggles for their version — we can share Reiner’s apple Martini riff (one of two Appletini takes), along with recipes for a 7&7, Pickleback, Greyhound and more, below. Drink up without shame.

Dante's Appletini
Dante’s Appletini

Created by Dante’s Beverage Training Director Renato Tonnelli, Dante’s Appletini is a crisp and delicate blend of clarified Granny Smith apple juice, beeswax Belvedere and different vermouths and sherries. “The Classic Appletini is great in theory, but it’s usually unbalanced in practice,” Tonelli says. “Almost everyone loves the flavor of apples, so it’s normal that the Appletini draws people in. It’s a flavor that is approachable to many different types of palates. But they can be overly sweet with artificial liqueurs and sweeteners that overpower the drink.”

Dante's Appletini

Prep Time: 15 mins

Servings: 2

  • 1.5 oz. Beeswax Belvedere (recipe below)
  • .5 oz. Lustau Fino Sherry
  • .5 oz. Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
  • .5 oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
  • .5 oz. Manzana Verde Liqueur
  • .75 oz. verjus
  • 1 oz. clarified Granny Smith apple juice
  • .25 oz. honey syrup (1:1)
  • .125 oz. St-Germain
  • 1 dash chamomile tincture
  • 3 dash saline solution
  • 1 oz. Aqua Panna (dilution)
  • Green Chartreuse spritz, for garnish
  • Granny Smith apple skin, for garnish
    1. Shake or stir ingredients, save for the Chartreuse and apple skin, with ice. Strain into coupe glasses.

    2. Garnish with a Granny Smith apple skin and Green Chartreuse spray.

    3. To create the Beeswax Belvedere: Combine Belvedere Vodka and organic beeswax with a sous vide. Bring both ingredients up to temperature in a warm bath until the beeswax has melted. Place in the freezer until the beeswax hardens again. Strain out the liquid through a chinois.

Staten Island Iced Tea
Staten Island Iced Tea
Brandyn Liu

The new Brooklyn bar Mr. Melo decided to remake the infamous Long Island Iced Tea by combining multiple Italian amari and aperitivi, homemade cola and lemon. It’s also offered on draft. “The original seemed like a recipe for a hangover,” says co-owner Nikolas Vagenas. “It’s inconsistent, with an unbalanced flavor profile and an overindulgence of high ABV alcohols.” Noting that the original seemed only designed to get people “drunk quickly,” Vagenas and his team created more depth with their variation — and modestly lowered the booze content.

Staten Island Iced Tea

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings: 1

  • .25 oz. Select Aperitivo
  • .25 oz. Montenegro
  • .25 oz. Fernet Branca
  • .25 oz. Cynar
  • .25 oz. Amaro Nonino
  • .25 oz. Luxardo Maraschino
  • .25 oz. dry vermouth
  • .25 oz. sweet vermouth
  • .5 oz. lemon juice
  • 2 lemon peels, divided
  • Homemade cola (but any cola will suffice)
    1. Shake alcohol, lemon juice and a lemon peel (aka the “royal shake”) with ice.

    2. Strain into a highball glass with ice and top with homemade cola. Garnish with a lemon twist.

At the Disco
At the Disco
Madame George

“The Midori Sour was at its peak in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and I wasn’t quite drinking at the time,” Minaya admits. “You’d always see Midori on the back bar, though the craft cocktail renaissance moved it out.” For his variation, Minaya based the drink more around brandy and balanced it out with a melon liqueur made with vodka, honeydew and cantaloupe (“omitting Midori’s rare source of muskmelons and also food coloring.”). This drink also utilizes fresh lime and lemon instead of sour mix, while the egg white puts it closer to a traditional fizz.

At the Disco

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings: 1

  • 1 oz. house melon liqueur (recipe below)
  • 1 oz. Singani Brandy
  • .5 oz. lime juice
  • .5 oz. lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  • Skewered melon balls, for garnish
    1. Add all liquid ingredients into a small tin. Dry shake. Add ice and shake vigorously.

    2. Strain into a chilled Collins glass filled with ice. Garnish with three melon balls on a skewer.

    3. For the house melon liqueur: Dice up some honeydew and cantaloupe and place in a non-reactive container with sugar and vodka. Let it infuse for 24 to 48 hours (depending on your melons). Add a splash of food coloring if you want that nostalgic neon green color. (You can also make a melon juice syrup and pair your citrus and syrup with vodka and brandy.)

Porchlight Seven x 7
Porchlight Seven x 7
Kirk Miller

“Early on in my drinking career, I can remember enjoying a 7 & 7,” says Porchlight Beverage Director Ben Brown. “I remember playing in cover bands in bars during summer break, and this was a quick, easy and relatively cheap call for me to memorize.” The appeal of the original drink lies in its highball simplicity (Seven-Up and Seagram’s Seven Crown), but for Porchlight’s version, they did add a more complex citrus syrup to the mix. “We developed a recipe with fresh citrus juice, citrus zest, salt, ginger and sugar,” Brown adds. “Combining this with our secret blend of seven whiskies, we then force carbonate it and serve on draft.” 

Seven & 7

Prep Time: 15 mins

Servings: 1

  • .5 oz. Mellow Corn
  • .5 oz. Tennessee whiskey, preferably Dickel Signature
  • .5 oz. rye whiskey, preferably Old Overholt Rye
  • .5 oz. rye whiskey, preferably Canadian Club Rye
  • .5 oz peated single malt whiskey, preferably Laphroaig
  • .25 oz. Cointreau
  • .25 oz. black tea
  • 1 oz. citrus syrup
  • 2.5 oz. cold water
  • Lime wedge, for garnish
    1. *Citrus Syrup:
      .25 oz. lemon zest
      .25 oz. lime zest
      25 oz. granulated sugar
      .75 oz chopped ginger
      .5 tsp. kosher salt
      25 oz. water, by volume
      10 g citric acid
      5 g malic acid
      1 oz. lime juice, by volume
      1 oz. lemon juice, by volume

      Combine all ingredients, except lemon and lime juices, in a medium pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the juices. Let the syrup cool. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and store in a refrigerator. Yields approximately 1 quart.

    2. Combine all liquid ingredients in an iSi whipper and carbonate.

    3. Serve in a footed highball glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Gandalf the Grey Hound
Gandalf the Grey Hound
Lure Digital

“We’ve got a spin on the old Greyhound cocktail,” says Brandon Ristaino, co-founder and Beverage Director of Good Lion Hospitality. “The original version is pretty one-dimensional and flabby and usually doesn’t feature fresh juice. Our riff adds some complexity and bitterness to the equation with the fortified wines, some spice with the ginger syrup and some backbone with the addition of fresh lemon juice.”

Gandalf the Grey Hound

Prep Time: 15 mins

Servings: 1

  • 1.5 oz. vodka
  • .25 oz. Punt e Mes vermouth
  • .25 oz. Amontillado sherry
  • .75 oz. grapefruit juice
  • .5 oz. lemon juice
  • .25 oz. ginger syrup (recipe below)
  • .5 oz. orange syrup (recipe below)
  • Grapefruit wheel, for garnish
    1. Shake all liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.

    2. Strain into a large glass with ice and garnish with a grapefruit wheel.

    3. Ginger Syrup: 3:2:1 organic sugar to fresh squeezed and strained ginger juice to filtered water. Blend and refrigerate for up to one week.

    4. Orange Syrup: 1:1 fresh squeezed and strained orange juice to organic sugar. Blend and refrigerate for up to one week.

Milady's Big Apple Martini
Milady’s Big Apple Martini
Daniel Krieger

Milady's Big Apple Martini

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings: 1

  • 1 oz. apple-infused SKYY vodka
  • 1 oz. apple-infused Bombay Sapphire
  • .75 oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth
  • .5 oz. Clear Creek Apple Brandy
  • 4 dashes malic acid solution
  • Dehydrated apple chip, for garnish
  • Lemon oil, for garnish
    1. Throw the cocktail 6-7 times from tin to tin until chilled and diluted.

    2. Strain into a Martini glass. Finish with a dehydrated apple chip and lemon oil. 

Puesto Pineapple Pickleback
Puesto Pineapple Pickleback
Mandie Geller

“I was late to the party, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Picklebacks,” says Beau du Bois, Vice President of Bar and Spirits at California’s Puesto Mexican Artisan Kitchen & Bar. “We live in a time of brine, and it’s also ritualistic — an interactive shot, basically. Always fun to share!” This doesn’t mean the shot couldn’t use a little upscaling. This one utilizes tequila instead of whiskey, which involved altering the usual brine flavor with fresh-cut pineapple, poblano peppers, distilled vinegar, salt and sugar.

Puesto Pineapple Pickleback

Prep Time: 15 mins

Servings: 1

  • 20 g sugar
  • 20 g salt
  • 150 g white distilled vinegar
  • 350 g water
  • 125 g poblano pepper, roughly chopped
  • 500 g pineapple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
    1. Add all ingredients to a saucepan and put over a medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil and then remove from heat.

    2. Let cool for one hour and then fine strain.

    3. Pair with a tequila shot.


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