10 Signature Cocktails Invented in New York

City Tales

10 Signature Cocktails Invented in New York

City Tales

27 March, 2018

A signature is unique to each person, and a signature cocktail is unique to the place and the people who invented it. New York City has an incredible array of cocktail bars and a huge number of signature cocktails, each with its own story. Here’s a list of our top 10 signature cocktails invented in New York!

Friends toasting with cocktails


Right at the top of our list is the Manhattan. There is perhaps no beverage more famous or connected to New York than this signature cocktail. It was invented in the Manhattan Club, in New York, in the 1870s and it has since taken over the world. A Manhattan is made with whiskey (usually rye), sweet vermouth, and bitters. A Manhattan is usually served in a cocktail glass with a maraschino cherry. In New York, there are so many different variations on the traditional Manhattan for connoisseurs to try, so make sure you try a few different versions in New York’s countless cocktail bars!

Cosmopolitan (or Cosmo)

The advent of Sex and the City made the Cosmo a worldwide hit, but this famously pink drink dates back to 1987, to Odeon, the famous bar of choice for the cast of Saturday Night Live. The Cosmopolitan was invented by bartender Toby Cecchini and it contains vodka, Cointreau, cranberry, and lime, all shaken with ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass with a twist of lemon. The signature pink color is an important part of a Cosmopolitan, and you can easily find variations that substitute lemon for lime and ginger instead of cranberry. 

A cosmopolitan cocktail

Dry Martini

Various cities claim provenance over the classic Martini, but the dry Martini is unquestionably from New York City! It was first made at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York in 1911 and named after the bartender who invented it. As gin was easier to make than many other kinds of alcohol, it was very popular during the Prohibition Era, which contributed to the increased popularity of the dry Martini. A dry Martini is made with dry, white vermouth, and dry gin, with ice and optional bitters. A dry Martini should always be served in a cocktail glass, with the option of a green olive or a twist of lemon.

The Penicillin 

This bright yellow cocktail is one of the newest drinks to make it onto our list. It was invented by cocktail specialist Sam Ross in 2005 in the New York bar Milk and Honey. While Milk and Honey is now closed, Sam Ross opened a new bar in the same place called Attaboy. You’ll find the original signature Penicillin in Attaboy, but also in many of New York’s bars, as good booze travels fast! The Penicillin is made with Scotch, honey, ginger, and lime. Its combination of strong flavors creates a slight medicinal taste that earned it its name. The Penicillin is usually served in a short tumbler on the rocks. 

A penicillin cocktail

The Bronx

The Bronx is a wonderful citrusy alternative to the classic Martini. It was first made in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel at the beginning of the 20th century, where it was very popular. But this cocktail fell out of popularity during Prohibition and it has never returned to its former glory. The Bronx is made of 6 parts gin, 3 parts sweet red Vermouth, 2 parts dry Vermouth, and 3 parts orange juice. The finished product is bright orange and is usually served in a cocktail glass with an orange twist. 

The Gin-Gin Mule 

The Gin-Gin Mule was first invented by Audrey Saunders, the owner of the cocktail bar Pegu Club, in New York City. It is widely regarded as one of the best new cocktails to come out of New York in the 21st Century! A Gin-Gin Mule is made with mint, lime juice, syrup, dry gin, ginger beer, and a little splash of soda water. You serve a Gin-Gin Mule in a highball glass with a wedge of lime and a little sprig of mint. This cocktail is as complex as they come, making it the perfect drink to have someone else make for you!

A gin-gin mule cocktail

Old Fashioned 

This cocktail is made by mixing sugar with bitters and adding whiskey (or sometimes brandy) and a little zest of orange rind. An Old Fashioned is usually served in a short, rounded, tumbler. The glass has become such an important part of the drink that this round tumbler is actually called an Old Fashioned glass. Now served all over the world, an Old Fashioned has rather humbler beginnings in the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. It had been invented by a bartender at the Pendennis Club who then brought the cocktail to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. So, although it wasn’t quite invented here, it’s been in New York for so long and we got it straight from the source!

Porch Swing

A lesser known cocktail from New York City is the Porch Swing. This cocktail was invented by the genius bartenders at Blue Smoke restaurant. This bright, refreshing cocktail is the perfect accompaniment to the restaurant’s rich, flavorsome BBQ food. You make a Porch Swing with Hendricks gin, Pimm’s No.1, lemonade, a splash of 7-up, and 10 wafer-thin slices of cucumber. It’s difficult to think of a cocktail quite as cool and refreshing as the Porch Swing, making it perfect if you’re especially thirsty after a long day sightseeing around the city!

Bloody Mary 

A Bloody Mary (AKA a Red Snapper) was first invented in 1934 by Ferdinand Petiot, working in King Cole Bar in St. Regis Hotel. The name Bloody Mary was deemed too vulgar for King Cole Bar, so it was renamed Red Snapper. It’s hard to conceive of a cocktail more iconic than the Bloody Mary, so many fans of this powerful drink will relish the opportunity to try it from its original source. Famously, Petiot added salt, pepper, lemon, and Worcestershire sauce to his famous vodka-tomato cocktail (created when he worked in the New York Bar, Paris, in 1921) and created a truly iconic drink. Serve a Bloody Mary in a highball glass with a celery stick and lemon wedge. 

A bloody mary (or red snapper) cocktail

Tom Collins

There are so much myth and confusion around this world-famous cocktail that we had to include it on this list. Some claim that the cocktail originated in England as far back as 1891, saying that it got its name from a song called ‘Jim Collins’. But most cocktail historians attribute the drink to a hoax that took over New York in 1874. The hoax involved telling someone that a man called Tom Collins was saying defamatory things about them in a bar so that they would rush over to the bar to clear their name and confront Tom Collins. Then, when they got to the bar, the bar staff (all in on the joke) would tell them that Tom Collins had moved on to a different bar — and so on and so on… The Tom Collins cocktail is a refreshing combination of gin, lemon juice, sugar, and carbonated water. It should be served in a Collins glass with a slice of lemon and a maraschino cherry. 

That’s everything that made it on our list of 10 signature cocktails invented in New York. While you’re having a drink in New York, why not see the sights? We have a huge range of New York sightseeing tours, including a tour of the Statue of Liberty and a 9/11 Museum and a World Trade Centre tour.  Please get in touch if you have any questions about City Tales Sightseeing tours. Let us help you plan your perfect New York City holiday!

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