Why You Should Be Familiar With Prohibition Cocktails Before Ordering At The Bar

The amorphous queue that forms animatedly before the bar can be peril-fraught terrain. You're just trying to order a drink (and so is everybody else, so keep your cool). But, before a single word leaves your lips, there are a few invisible prerequisites essential to placing a successful cocktail order — or, at least one that doesn't make you look like a chump (you do not want a sloe gin fizz, for the record). You'll need to arm yourself with a small armada of essential terms like "on the rocks" and "neat," and you'll need to have a general idea of what kind of drinks you like. Part of that is knowing whether you dig aged reposado tequila or hate rye whiskey, but to better set yourself up to receive a drink you'll love, arm yourself with a little familiarity about Prohibition-era cocktails.

Traces of classic Prohibition cocktails remain in the foundation of the inventive sippers modern mixologists are assembling today. Even the most avant-garde contemporary cocktail can be considered a variation of strongholds like a Collins, sour, or highball; and a crash course in Prohibition-era cocktail knowledge can help you order a better drink.

For instance, if you know you like sidecars (cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice), this is super helpful information for your bartender. "Make me something" does not constitute an adequate order. Knowing that you like sidecars, your bartender can infer that you prefer dark liquors, served up and spirit-forward, yet not super sweet.

Drink like it's the Jazz Age (you might be doing so already)

The socio-gastronomic giant that is "cocktail culture" first took hold during Prohibition, the period during which the classic foundation of drinks was popularized (think old fashioneds, gimlets, Manhattans, etc.). Many longstanding cocktail favorites that fans know and love today were created pre-Prohibition, especially during the late 1880s. But, per the lore, many of the classic drinks that emerged from the Prohibition era (1920 to 1933) were inspired by utility: masking the taste of pungent, largely undrinkable homemade bathtub gin, or getting a little extra mileage out of the liquor when the spirits were about to run dry.

Unlike frothy vegan-friendly aquafaba or elaborate fruity shrubs, Prohibition cocktails were and remain all about straightforward elements that speak for themselves, and achieving the balance of those ingredients. This simplicity is likely why the gin rickey, sidecar, mojito, Bee's Knees, Ward Eight, French 75, and daiquiri have remained popular bar orders a century later.

Whether you're looking to reanimate yourself after a legendary night or knock your lights out before lunch, the Prohibition classic Corpse Reviver No. 2 can get the job done and make you look vintage-classy-retro while you're at it. Many contemporary cocktail lovers are even reliving the forbidden glamor of 1920s-era clandestine speakeasies. (Ever taken a trip through the phone booth at Crif Dogs on St. Mark's in NYC? Not so secret, but still pretty cool.)