The revival of the classic cocktail has helped reintroduce modern drinkers to decades-old staples like the Manhattan, Negroni, and Old Fashioned. But the more modern classics—drinks that were popular more recently than Prohibition—don’t get much attention on cocktail menus today. Think former bar stars like the Cosmopolitan, Mudslide, Long Island Iced Tea, Fuzzy Navel, White Russian, and Appletini. They were highly sought-after in the 1990s, but are rarely served at serious cocktail bars now. However, some venues are turning their attention back to these drinks, making them with more upscale, modern ingredients while still recognizing the fun and easy-drinking opportunities they provide.
Restaurant chain TGI Fridays, which has its corporate headquarters near Dallas and boasts 388 locations nationwide, lists a Long Island Iced Tea on its drinks menu and also offers flavored offshoots in some markets, from a blueberry pomegranate extension to one enhanced with Jameson Irish whiskey. Fridays’ traditional Ultimate Long Island Iced Tea ($10-$11) mixes Tito’s vodka, Bacardi Superior rum, Bombay gin, Grand Marnier liqueur, and Coca-Cola, and it’s a popular choice throughout the restaurant chain’s bars. “The Fridays Long Island Iced Tea has been around since the early days of our brand and is our bestselling cocktail,” says Randy Steinbrenner, Fridays’ director of brand marketing for local and field bar and beverage operations. “TGI Fridays sells over 2 million Long Island Iced Teas a year across the U.S.” The chain debuted a new bar menu in select test markets this year, featuring several retro drinks and additional Long Island Iced Tea variations. Steinbrenner says these cocktails have performed well so far.
In Tampa, Florida, GenX Tavern is an ’80s- and ’90s-themed bar with menus that highlight those years. The venue serves the updated Hampton’s Iced Tea, mixing Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey, Captain Morgan Spiced rum, Aviation American gin, Aalborg Taffel aquavit, Fee Bros. Falernum cocktail mixer, and lemon juice, topped with Kenwood Vineyards’ Yulupa Cuvée Brut sparkling wine. Other drinks incorporate nostalgic ingredients, such as the Loaded Sunny-D, made with Absolut vodka, Aperol aperitif, Fee Bros. Grapefruit bitters, and Sunny-D orange drink, served in a Sunny-D bottle (cocktails are $10). A variety of shots are also available, including the Creamsicle, blending Skyy Infusions Vanilla Bean vodka, Cointreau liqueur, Rose’s grenadine, orange juice, and half-and-half, and the Tang-A-Rang, comprising Skyy Citrus vodka and Yellow Chartreuse, served in a glass of Tang drink (shots are $7).
“We have recognizable drinks that we’ve put our own spin on, and we serve cocktails that incorporate ingredients that were popular in the ’80s and ’90s,” says Chris Falls, general manager at GenX Tavern. “We provide quality ingredients every step of the way and remain relevant through innovation. Everyone enjoys our offerings, including people from that era and those who grew up in households where their parents exposed them to movies, shows, and music with our references. It’s a testament to the products of that time period.”
Drinks machines that were popular in the ’90s are also making a comeback at some bars today. JJ’s Hideaway in Brooklyn, New York has frozen cocktail machines that serve up ’90s standbys, including the Frozen Guilty Pleasure, which is the bar’s version of the Cosmopolitan, made with Wodka vodka, Boulaine triple sec, and cranberry and lime juices, and the Frozen Mudslide, mixing Wodka vodka, DeKuyper Coffee liqueur, Brady’s Irish Cream liqueur, and Hershey’s chocolate syrup. These join mixed drinks like the Dubouchett Peach schnapps-based Fuzzy Navel and the Boulaine Blue Curaçao-based Blue Lagoon (cocktails are $7-$9), as well as layered shots, from the Buttery Nipple to the B52 ($7-$10).
“Our concept is an ’80s and ’90s post-punk dive bar, and enough time has passed for these cocktails to come back and for customers to think they’re fun,” says Eric Bieber, beverage director at JJ’s Hideaway. “We get customers who were of drinking age in the ’80s and ’90s who respond to the nostalgia, as well as the younger crowd, who looks at these cocktails as a novelty and a chance to try something they may remember their parents drinking. We definitely sell more ’90s cocktails than modern drinks. Guests are more than happy to step back into the ’90s and have fun with the theme. Modern mixology is great, but cocktails can still be fun and silly.”