Blast from the Past: ’80s Cocktails are Back

Give those “bad” cocktails a second chance

Hey, kids, you’re lucky to be living in this golden age of cocktails. Back in the dark ages of drinks (a.k.a. the ‘80s, which is spotlighted in Los Angeles magazine’s July issue) there was no real attention paid to bartending skills or quality ingredients.

Canned syrups, soda guns, and sloppy free pouring dominated the “cocktail scene.” Bars weren’t so much for enjoying a well-made drink as they were for forgetting all your ills and hooking up. It was all a sweet, sticky drunken haze. Flash-forward to present day and the pendulum has swung the other way, with the resurrection of pre-Prohibition cocktails and the mainstreaming of classic libations. Now there’s farm-to-glass mixology, a booming business in barware and cocktail books, and cocktail consultants for restaurant bar programs. Naturally it’s the perfect time to revisit the popular ‘80s cocktails, and L.A. bartenders have taken up the challenge.

Here are where you can try ‘80s-era cocktails recreated and reinvented with precise measurements and fresh ingredients.

Pot Bar at the Line Hotel has a slew of bad-made-good cocktails envisioned by bar chef Matthew Biancaniello and Roy Choi. So which nightclub staple will it be? A Long Island Ice Tea made with mezcal, aquavit, Smith & Cross rum, Batavia Arrack, Cap Rock gin, fresh blood orange juice, and aloe vera chunks? Or mayhaps a Midori Sour with yuzu and Green Chartreuse?  

Good Times at Davey Wayne’s in Hollywood is actually one of the few cocktail bars themed in homage to the ‘70s and early ‘80s and their fun cocktail program reflects that. You won’t recognize the re-crafted classics by their original moniker but rather by their ingredients. Here the Fuzzy Navel, normally O.J. and peach schnapps, is the Fuzzy Britches, done up with vodka, peach preserves, cremé de peche, orange peel-infused Dolin dry vermouth, and orange blossom water.

Eveleigh in West Hollywood put the Singapore Sling on tap! The original Singapore Sling, which is said to originate from a Singapore hotel in 1915, was perfectly drinkable—but the popular ‘80s version? Not so much. But for his draft version, bartender David Kupchinsky tweaked and freshened up the ingredients using Aviation gin, Banks 5 Island Rum, Amontillado Sherry, Kirshwasser Cherry Eau De Vie, cold pressed Pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, and cherry-lemongrass shrub. Why put this one on tap? “Because it’s got sooo many ingredients and it’s extremely popular,” said Kupchinsky. “Saves a lot of time.”

The cocktail program at Studio City’s Tunnel Bar is based on resurrecting not-good cocktails.  “We want to go in and bring some of these lost club drinks back by using really good ingredients and, of course, technique which is one of the huge parts of it,” said Director of Operations Adam Weisblatt. They’ve got an Alabama Slammer with a housemade SoCo, a Stinger made with a small-batch creme de menthe, and even a Hurricane with passionfruit pureé in place of that cheap liqueur.

At Caña Rum Bar downtown there is a blended Piña Colada but it’s not the syrupy sweet version that you found in beach bars. Theirs is made with a blend of two rums, housemade coconut cream, and, more importantly, fresh pineapple juice. The end result is a dangerously slammable drink; one that tastes light on the booze but has the potential to hit you hard. Bonus is that you won’t get that tummy ache you usually get from too-sugary cocktails.