As with many classic cocktails, the history of the sidecar is a bit muddled. But more than 100 years after its inception, it still is elegant in its simplicity and brilliant in its balance.
Basically a cognac sour, the sidecar arose during the golden age of mixology — the Prohibition era. Made with a boozy cognac base, a sweetening agent of orange liqueur and jazzy notes from citrus, it’s a symbol of sophistication that has stood the test of time.
Legend has it that the name dates to World War I and comes from the motorcycle passenger attachment. The first published recipe was in Harry MacElhone’s “Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails” in 1919. MacElhone was the proprietor of Harry’s New York Bar, which opened in Paris in 1911. Some attribute the drink to bartender Pat McGarry of Buck’s Club London, which opened in 1919.
Not only are the drink’s origins contested, but two schools of mixing the ingredients also have developed. The French way calls for equal parts of the three ingredients, while English bartenders prefer to shake two parts cognac to one each of triple sec and lemon juice.
Some bartenders use brandy in place of cognac, which takes us back to one of the origin stories. A soldier purportedly ordered a brandy crusta, a cocktail that emerged in New Orleans in the 1850s. Because it was France, the bartender used cognac in place of brandy and Cointreau in place of Curaçao, and a new drink was fashioned.
So, the brandy crusta is considered the parent drink to the sidecar in the family of cocktails. A crusta also calls for a long twist of lemon in the glass, as well as a sugared rim.
Want to try a sidecar (or its parent)? Check out one of these local spots:
Bazati. The beverage program here is rooted in 1920s cocktails. Bazati’s sidecar mixes rich, fruity Martell VS cognac, dry Curaçao and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. A delicate sliver of lemon peel garnishes the cocktail glass.
550 Somerset Terrace NE, Atlanta. 404-795-8343, bazatiatl.com
Atrium. Beverage Director Demario Wallace pays homage to New Orleans bartender Joseph Santini’s brandy crusta with a boozy, spirit-forward mix of cognac, pisco, Pierre Ferrand dry Curaçao, lemon juice over pebble ice and, of course, the signature lemon peel garnish.
675 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-600-3939, atriumatl.com
Parlor. This Castleberry Hill lounge leans toward pre-Prohibition cocktails, often paying homage to African American contributors to the canon. In the Parlor’s sidecar, rich, woodsy D’usse VSOP cognac is mixed with lemon juice and peach liqueur (in place of the traditional orange), with a little sweetness from simple syrup.
249 Peters St. SW, Atlanta. 678-974-7088. parlorden.com
Sidebar. Located in Atlanta’s Fairlie-Poplar District, this spot has three levels of bars, live music and is open into the wee hours. The sidecar here is crafted with Hennessy cognac, Cointreau and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. It’s served with a sugared rim, which was popularized in the 1930s.
79 Poplar St. NW, Atlanta. 404-228-5442, sidebaratl.com
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