Did the stars of your favorite Hollywood film drink their eponymous cocktails? Highly unlikely, unless your favorite film is the greatest Hollywood comedy of all time. (No arguing.) Rosalind Russell supplied the recipe for the Rosalind Russell to Lucius Beebe for his Stork Club Bar Book (a volume that also advertises the supersized Bellamy Scotch Sour as a favorite of that fellow in the movies). A dame like Russell is very rare to find, however. Far more typical is the case of Cary Grant, against whom there is no evidence of ever having drunk a Cary Grant. That’s usually the way things go. Moreover, the fact that the Internet cannot decide whether this vodka-based Cary Grant is made with Tia Maria coffee liqueur or Tio Pepe sherry suggests that the recipe spread by way of a game of telephone played by fools (because smart people immediately recognized that the drink sounds dumb either way).
Do any of the cocktails named for movie stars rank as classics? Only the Mary Pickford—and only because it was a hit in 1920s Havana, where its very preparation was a spectacle that always packed ‘em in. It’s “a curious sort of proto-exotic drink, made with rum, pineapple juice and grenadine,” plus a bit of Maraschino liqueur, to help make it almost kind of good.
Is there any end in sight? Well, yes and no. Bartenders will never tire of attaching a famous name to a fancy concoction. Very occasionally, these drinks turn out well; a highball created in ‘90s-era Portland called the Ginger Rogers (gin, lime juice, ginger syrup, mint, ginger ale) constitutes one of those rare remakes that outshines the original. More frequently, these turn out poorly: The Brad Pitt is a mere glorification of the vodka-soda, and the Angelina Jolie is an unconscionable waste of single-malt scotch.
Moreover, celebrity isn't as easy on the stomach as it used to be, and it is tempting to theorize that the very idea of naming a cocktail in earnest tribute to a star has lost its kick over the decades. The pictures got small, definitely; the superstars became too super to handle, maybe; the tastes of tastemakers changed, for sure. Anyone can come up with a halfway decent tribute to Marilyn Monroe, sure, but her aura is simply to too big be confined to a glass, and so the kids slinging drinks on the craft-cocktail scene, indie-minded anyhow, aim their wits at easier targets. One wants to take out restraining orders against those responsible for 2011’s spate of snarking Charlie Sheens: Stay 500 feet away from a mixing glass or I’m calling the health department.
Which classic movie-star cocktail most rewards tinkering? That would be the Charlie Chaplin, which calls for 1 ounce each of sloe gin, apricot brandy, and lime juice. Though fundamentally appealing, it is pucker-making in its dry tartness, and the original recipe must be adjusted if it is to please a palate conditioned by modern times. To rework it as a garden-party aperitif, just add dry vermouth.
But do you want to have some real fun? I think you do, and therefore insist you spend Oscar night testing Slate’s entertaining variation on the Charlie Chaplin cocktail. Here’s how to honor an icon of playing with food.
¾ ounce Broker's London dry gin
¾ ounce Plymouth sloe gin
¾ ounce Marie Brizard Apry apricot liqueur
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
Garnish: 1 thick lime half wheel, 2 Marasca cherries, 1 tiny little bowler hat*
Shake well with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish and serve.
*Note on garniture: Detach a Lilliputian plastic bowler hat from the cap of a 50-milliliter bottle—an “airplane bottle”—of Broker’s. Cut a notch into the flesh of the lime slice so that it will fit over the rim of your glass. Spear two cherries with one wooden toothpick. Stick one end of the toothpick into the skin of the lime, near the top of the arc of the half wheel. Place the half wheel on the rim of the glass. Put the bowler hat on the topmost cherry. See Figure 1, at left, to compare your handiwork against our prototype.