We live in the era of Bloody Mary and Mimosa hegemony. Our morning drinking options are scarce, reduced to a few perfectly fine (and perfectly boring) brunch cocktails that will give a pleasant enough buzz and little else. It was not always thus. In 19th-century Manhattan, sporting men would start their days with strong helpings of rye whiskey or absinthe. In 1920s London, Prohibition-fleeing ex-pats would gulp down industrial strength pick-me-ups with their bangers and eggs. To this day, Italian signores savor the bitter slap of amaro liqueurs along with their expertly drawn doppios.
Still, morning drinking is a perilous pursuit. A responsible drinker wants to be both soothed and invigorated by a pre-noon libation. He wants a cure for his hangover and a blastoff into the day. He does not, under any circumstance, want to end up in a stupor.
So how do you strike that careful balance? What cocktails best promote the joys of early-in-the-day boozing while steering clear of its ugliest excesses? In order to profile six great morning drinks, we consulted with two of the best: Jack McGarry, bar manager of New York's The Dead Rabbit, and Tom Macy, head bartender at Brooklyn's Clover Club. At last month's Tales of the Cocktail awards in New Orleans (the Oscars of the mixed-drink industry), McGarry walked away with International Bartender of the Year honors and Macy's bar was named Best American Cocktail Bar. Both can conjure the intricate, arcane drinks that populate 19th-century mixology manuals. And both know that sometimes the most satisfying drinks are the simplest, most familiar, and least pretentious.
Here, five of McGarry's and Macy's morning-cocktail picks and a wild-card choice of our own.
Corpse Reviver #2
Prohibition may have been a boon to big-city gangsters and Appalachian moonshine runners, but it led to an exodus of many of the country's best bartenders. One of those exiled mixers, Harry Craddock, ended up in London at the Savoy Hotel's cocktail bar, where he invented and popularized a number of now-classic drinks, among them the Corpse Reviver #2, a traditional pick-me-up intended to be imbibed cold and fast. The drink might seem unwieldy if you simply glance at its contents – equal parts gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, and lemon juice, with a dash of absinthe thrown in – but the flavors balance into a potent whole. And while it features some high-proof ingredients, Macy promises, "it's not going to get you really drunk." Instead the drink should be a jolt of energy that goes down easily. Shake it vigorously in ice and serve it at an appropriately glacial temperature, and you'll gulp it down in one sip.
• 3/4 oz gin
• 3/4 oz Cointreau
• 3/4 oz Lillet blanc
• 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
• A dash of absinthe
Credit: Tracy A Woodward / The Washington Post / Getty Images
Shake vigorously and pour into a short glass. Garnish with an orange slice.