I’ve been shamed by more bartenders than I can count for ordering a Cosmopolitan. Most of the time, it’s been done with a quick but telling glance, though at my favorite bar in Cambridge, it’s a pregnant “Hmph” from the grumpy bartender. A bartender in Austin, Texas, once told me, “We don’t do that kind of thing here.”
“Is this not a bar?” I shot back.
“It is,” he deadpanned.
I sipped a lukewarm beer, miserable.
Even in Provincetown — a landmark in the drink’s history, where a bartender named John Caine made an early iteration of the drink in the 1980s by adding cranberry juice to a gimlet, and where gay men were early adopters, long before straight people, always waddling behind, caught on — I’ve been reprimanded for ordering a Cosmo: “No one’s ordered that in a while.”
From here, Caine told Punch, in a 2019 history of the Cosmopolitan, he “transported it” to San Francisco. And from there the drink found its way to fame and, what often follows, infamy.
The reasons for the Cosmo contempt are simple. It’s too sweet. But if made correctly, it’s not. A Cosmopolitan is always going to be a little sweet, which, like any other treat, is why it’s delicious. Or it’s too girly. To that I say: Stop talking, dude. Then there are those who say it’s too unsophisticated. This is a very Puritanical idea, that anything pleasurable must be earned, and, in that vein, if you’re going to have a drink it should challenge your palate. The drink should be complex, mature. To that I say: Who doesn’t love an ingenue?
My love for the Cosmo began long before I tasted one. It dates back to when I was a preteen, spending Friday nights curled up in bed with HBO open on my laptop, taking life lessons from Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. She was often shown sipping a drink that looked like someone had cut open a pink Glow Stick and emptied the liquid contents into a glass.
Carrie was a writer and, as I watched her walk wistfully down city streets, stiletto stuck in cobblestone, I decided I was, too. On television, “writing” is not a job, not even an artform — it’s a way of moving through the world. On television, writers are rarely, if ever, shown writing. Still, they live their lives in a writerly way: mental notepad always open, taking down the details, creating narratives of the everyday things, which, treated right, gush with significance.
I recently rewatched Sex and the City for the first time since I was a teenager and found I still see myself in Carrie: she’s a neurotic, chatty petite with a craze of blonde curls and a remarkable inability to spend a night in. What I didn’t relate to, though, was the show’s depiction of a writer’s life. Having tried my hand, I have learned that, when you’re a writer, you actually have to write.
Writing is not a stiletto on cobblestone thing. It’s not giggling around a table with tipsy friends. It’s sitting on your ass, wondering how the hell you ended up here.
I love writing. I also hate it. I write something and think to myself: “a stroke of genius.” Then, the next day: “Has anyone ever written anything so inferior?”
But occasionally the useful self-delusion that writing is glamorous kicks in and I get up from my desk and step into the world as only a writer can. I move with curiosity and the knowledge that what I do tonight will be written down tomorrow and, perhaps, published the next day.
On a recent Saturday night, running late for a drag show, I quickly put on the ensemble of a writer: sweater vest, pleated pants, woven sandals, glasses that I only sort of need. I ran down to Commercial Street, sweat wetting my curls, and, like a Carrie in Provincetown, hailed myself a pedicab.
After the show, high on the night, I went to a bar, alone, and ordered a Cosmopolitan. If there was a side-eye from a bartender, I didn’t notice. I sat outside, watching the foot traffic and listening to the lapping waves, jotting impressions and details in my notepad, sipping a delicious little drink brimming with juicy connotations, wondering how I ended up here.
For one cocktail
Chill a martini glass with a stiletto-thin stem and a bowl that opens dramatically like a lotus in blossom.
1½ oz. good vodka
½ oz. Triple Sec
¾ oz. cranberry juice
½ oz. fresh lime juice
Just put all that goodness inside a cocktail shaker with some ice and get some of your passions out as you shake. Strain the drink into your martini glass, garnish with a lime wedge or lemon twist, and feel fabulous.