Everything You Know About the Cosmopolitan Is Wrong

With 'Sex and the City' in the rearview, it's time to give the misunderstood cocktail a second chance

October 28, 2019 9:12 am
The secret to a good Cosmo? Balance.
Kirk Miller

More than a decade before the Cosmopolitan hit the larger cultural zeitgeist — mostly thanks to its ubiquity on HBO’s Sex and the City — the pink cocktail had already made its mark in downtown New York. 

Among the drink’s many fans in 1988? Madonna and Sandra Bernhard, who used to order the Cosmo at Odeon straight from the drink’s creator, Toby Cecchini.

“They could never remember the name of it, so they would just call it the ‘pink drink’ and call me ‘boyfriend,’” Cecchini says, reminiscing about the drink’s origins earlier this month at his Brooklyn cocktail den The Long Island Bar over a retro soundtrack of Rick Astley and New Order. “And Sandra scared the hell out of me.” 

Thirty-one years since the drink’s debut, the Cosmopolitan is not-so-improbably making a comeback. Some of it has to do with the tipple’s association with Cointreau (the French liqueur in Cecchini’s drink recipe), which has recently pushed out new recipes and prioritized the cocktail at press and promotional events. 

A Cosmo class with Toby Cecchini and Alfred Cointreau (Benjamin Lozovsky/BFA.com)

But some of the reclaimed interest comes with time. The cocktail renaissance may have happened years after the Cosmo originated, but it’s still a drink with a purpose, fresh ingredients and measured, consistent proportions. 

Of course, if you’ve ordered a Cosmopolitan in the last two decades, chances are you had a bad, cloyingly sweet version. That is the fault of bad bartending — not the cocktail itself. To set things right, we recently took a Cosmo class at Cecchini’s bar and talked with the drink’s creator about common misperceptions, weathering the Sex and the City association and where the Cosmo fits in with the 21st century cocktail scene.

What we learned …

The Cosmopolitan was inspired by a drink called … The Cosmopolitan

Bartending at Odeon in 1988 (where Basquiat, Warhol and Keith Haring were regulars), Cecchini was introduced to a drink called The Cosmopolitan by a female coworker. “She went to San Francisco and came back and showed me this drink that was being consumed in all the gay and leather bars. It was made with rail vodka, Rose’s lime juice and Rose’s grenadine. I thought it was amazingly pretty, super cute and … disgusting. Cecchini remixed the drink, added a citrus vodka (“it was new and cool at the time”), fresh lime juice and Cointreau, which was being used for the restaurant’s margaritas. Cranberry juice was also added to maintain the drink’s pink hue.

The original proportions were a bit off

“My drink’s spec [ratio] was 2, 1, 1 and ‘some’ at the time” says Cecchini, referring to the citrus vodka, Cointreau, lime juice and cranberry juice, respectively. “It was only a few years ago when I sat down and realized ‘some’ wasn’t an actual spec.” That some became 1, and the proportions were slimmed down to 1.5 oz. of vodka and .75 oz of the modifiers, partially so the drink wouldn’t have to be contained in an oversized martini glass. “The original drank came in 10.5-oz glasses! It was such an ‘80s pour. That was a drink like the hair was in the 80s.”

The Cosmo was a hit well before Samantha, Carrie et al. discovered it

Cecchini originally made the drink for the Odeon staff. Then a few regulars started asking for it. “It was even weirder when someone I didn’t know asked for it,” he says. Soon bastardized variations began popping up in the area. Says Cecchini: “It was a downtown New York phenomenon for about 2-3 years. But like all trends, it waxed and waned.” It certainly was not the drink of the moment when Sex and the City debuted a decade later.

It’s the rare drink with a history you can source

“When you start researching the history of different drinks, there are a lot of false starts and apocrypha,” says Cecchini. “Things get muddy. Fortunately for me, I know where this drink came from! But that’s not how the entire world sees it. I had to take ownership at one point, and that wasn’t too tough, because there were enough people and regulars around me to remember when it was created.”

Cointreau and Cecchini making Cosmos at The Long Island Bar (Kirk Miller)

Whatever you think of the taste of the Cosmo, remember the source

As noted above, The Cosmopolitan is a very proportionate drink. It’s also not sweet when made to the original recipe. “It’s built on the same specs as any sour you can think of, like a margarita or sidecar,” says Cecchini. “I skew toward dry and tart. I made this to be a punch in the teeth. It makes a statement.” He adds: “People have made fun of me for this drink, but made properly, this is an adult cocktail.” 

It’s a cocktail with vodka, and that’s just fine in 2019

“You don’t have to apologize for vodka anymore,” says Cecchini. “Everything that goes around comes around. Vodka got a bad rap because every generation has to reject what their parents embraced. And the ‘90s was about nothing but vodka! Now, people have no recollection. Soon, they’ll be like, ‘Enough with the rye! Vodka’s something new, right? It’s so clean and pure.’” 

Sex and the City has made no difference in Cecchini’s life

Besides not being able to patent a cocktail, the second coming of the Cosmo during the HBO series’ heyday didn’t do much for the drink’s creator. “To this day, I have never seen an episode.” 

You can stray from the original recipe

Cecchini recently introduced two variations on the original Cosmopolitan, one with ginger (which makes everything better) and one completely deconstructed take that’s redone as a highball. “That’s very much in the zeitgeist right now,” says Cecchini, and hey, the man should know. 

Below, you’ll find both of those recipes along the timeless original. And if you’re in Cecchini’s neck of the woods, remember to order them the way Madonna and Bernhard did: “Boyfriend! Two more of those pink drinks!”

One classic and two variations on the Cosmo (Amy Lombard)

The Cosmopolitan
1.5 oz citrus vodka
.75 oz Cointreau
.75 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
.75 oz cranberry juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. 

The Ginger Cosmopolitan

1.5 oz vodka
.75 oz Cointreau
.75 oz lime
.5 oz ginger syrup*
.5 oz hibiscus infusion**

Shake all ingredients together over ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist. 

* For ginger syrup: Using an extraction juicer, juice ginger fresh. Add 2 parts sugar to each 1 part fresh ginger juice, by volume, and mix very well, until sugar is dissolved.

** For hibiscus infusion: To 100 grams of dried hibiscus flowers, add 1 liter boiling water and steep for 30 minutes. Strain and keep flowers for potential garnish.

The Cosmopolitan Highball

1 oz Cointreau
1 oz citrus vodka
.25 oz lemon verbena/citric acid solution***
4 oz soda water

Build in a highball glass half-filled with ice. Garnish with three cranberries, skewered, and a twist of lemon

*For lemon verbena/citric acid solution: To every 200 grams of lemon verbena infusion add 25 grams of citric acid powder and 25 grams of malic acid powder. Stir to dissolve.


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