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.
The classic Greyhound highball does not call for an imported Italian liqueur. It was not unearthed in a long-lost pre-Prohibition cocktail recipe book. It's grapefruit juice and vodka. That's it. If you add salt to the rim of the glass, you can call it a Salty Dog. But guess what? It's still grapefruit juice and vodka. And you know what else? That's totally fine.
"Sometimes you don't want to taste a strong alcoholic flavor in a brunch drink," Macy says. "Sometimes you just want to taste delicious grapefruit."
And that means that making a great Greyhound depends almost entirely on your choice of grapefruit juice. Don't skimp on it. It's the drink's overwhelmingly dominant flavor, and it's where you should spend your money. For the vodka, don't splurge on anything that's too high-end. Instead, go with a solid but affordable option like Aylesbury Duck Vodka, which Clover Club currently carries in its well. For a more traditional take, Macy recommends substituting a London dry gin like Beefeater or Tanqueray Sterling for vodka.
• 5 oz fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
• 2 oz vodka or gin
Credit: Getty Images
Salt glass for a Salty Dog.