Diner Drinks Decoded: A Beginner’s Guide to Vintage Cocktails

In the same way a diner’s varied and extensive menu means that eaters can order any dish they want at any time, a diner’s full bar means that all drink concoctions are available for consumption. Yes, diners are a great place for a cocktail—especially those of the vintage variety.

Tom Collins

Who is Tom Collins and why did his mix live in my grandparents’ liquor cabinet for 30 years? It doesn’t matter, this gin-heavy, club soda-fizzy drink is actually refreshing and not nearly as cloyingly sweet as other mixers.

Manhattan

The first sip is immediately reminiscent of the cough syrup you enjoyed as a kid—vaguely fruity with strong sweet, bitter and boozy notes. A taste for whiskey—and sweet vermouth—is most definitely a prerequisite for enjoying this cocktail.

Old Fashioned

Similar to a Manhattan, the Old Fashioned is the insufferable whiskey lover’s drink when they want to order something other than a whiskey. A whiskey drinker’s idea of a fun cocktail, the Old Fashioned is a bit of a bore.

White Russian

Alcohol and sweet cream, together at last. This mix of vodka, Kahlúa and sweet cream coalesces to somehow become a boozy soft serve concoction that coats the drinker’s mouth with silky smoothness, while enlightening the mind like only spirits can. This drink abides.

Mint Julep

The favored drink of the decadent and depraved attendees of the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep occupies the forbidden zone where cocktail meets toothpaste. If you like drinks that are sweet, full of bourbon and taste like an icy plant, then this is for you.

Sidecar

Pulled straight from the past, the Sidecar is one of those classic menu items that no one ever orders anymore—like the drink version of loaded potato skins. Though outdated, it’s not terrible. Cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice shaken with ice, it’s cool and lightly tart.

Gimlet

This is a T-shaped tool used for boring holes. But it’s also a cocktail usually with gin (sometimes vodka, though that would be incorrect) along with Rose’s Lime Juice, a preserved lime juice and a dash or two of soda. Highly drinkable and a great way to prevent scurvy.

Martini

A high society cocktail with drinkers who are a smidge more insufferable than whiskey fanatics, the martini was once called “the elixir of quietude” by author E.B. White. Ugh, really? I’d rather just eat a jar of olives.

Piña Colada

More than just a song about cheating on your wife and getting caught in the rain, this cold concoction of pineapple and rum is a tropical vacation that will give you brain freeze should you drink it too fast. The heavier the rum, the better the drink.

Long Island Iced Tea

Made with what basically amounts to all of the leftovers in your liquor cabinet along with a splash of cola, our island’s namesake drink tastes deceptively tame but can bring on a blackout with a boozy dropkick. There’s some dark magic at work in this cocktail that prevents it from causing blindness.

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Steve Mosco
Steve Mosco, the former editor-in-chief at Anton Media Group, is a columnist for Long Island Weekly's food and sports sections. He fancies himself a tastemaker, food influencer and king of all eaters.

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