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.
A go-to wine cocktail in Venetian bars, the Spritz was little known in the U.S. before the last decade, but the American debut of Aperol, a nearly century-old neon-orange Italian aperitif, transformed the drink into a Yankee bartender's staple. Consisting of three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol, and one part soda water, the Spritz is an ideal way to start a lazy weekend day.
"You get this really pleasant tingly buzz from it," Macy says. "You can put back two of them and get on with your day."
It's also a conveniently customizable cocktail. Prefer the stronger wallop of Campari to the brighter, less boozy Aperol? Go ahead and swap it in. Have a half-full bottle of Cava sitting in your fridge? No problem. Substitute it for the Prosecco. Just don't break the bank on sparkling wine. "You can get a value bottle and the Aperol will dress it up really nicely," Macy adds. "There's so much going on in it, you don't need a top-shelf bottle." For a savory counterpoint to the sweetness of the Aperol and sweet wine, Macy recommends finishing off the drink with an olive.
Pour the following ingredients into a Collins glass:
• 3 oz Prosecco (or other sweet wine)
• 2 oz Aperol (or other Italian liqueur)
• 1 oz soda water
Credit: Giorgio Fochesato / Getty Images
Stir. Garnish with an olive.