The history of the classic Long Island Iced Tea
1970 | Babylon, USA
As far as the “Long Island” is concerned, the world is divided into two camps. One considers this drink the ideal: inexpensive, efficient, and even tasty. The other, made up primarily of fussy bartenders, look down their noses at this mix, and consider it nothing but swill: boys order it because “there’s a lot of strong stuff mixed together, and it’ll get you hammered”, and girls – “because you can drink it without wincing, and it’s cheap besides”. After all, how many ‘tinis and Cosmos do you have to down in order to bare your soul? Here, you knock down one glass, and you’re dancing on a table. Two, and you’re letting it all hang out. Have a blast! Otherwise, why bother going to the bar in the first place?
Everyone’s got their own facts of life. There’s the Biennale and the Bellini, and then there’s Yorsh and the banya. There’s dinner parties at the ambassador’s, and then there’s a wedding at the neighbors’; there’s Red Bull and vodka at the club, and then there’s playing Preference and sipping Old Fashioneds. So what’s a real boozer without a “Long Island”, along with its partners in crime, the whiskey and Coke and the “Cuba Libre”? In other words: to each his own. After all, Venechka Erofeev may have sung the praises of “Aunt Klava’s Kiss” and “Jordanian Streams”, but even then, the mash-ups were a little simpler and the ingredients were infinitely more harmful than in the “Long Island”. The main thing is the approach. I know bartenders who take making a “Long Island” very seriously, and do it with love and a flourish. They elevate kitsch to Art. They mix together all five kinds of alcohol with lemon juice in a towel-wrapped shaker – so that their fingers don’t freeze in the process – then filter it all into a skinny sling glass, chilled and filled with crushed ice, and top with just a little bit of Coca-Cola for color alone.
There’s no sense in arguing about taste; it’s better to talk about history. There’s a widespread opinion that such a heavily-alcoholic “tea” was born out of wedlock with Prohibition, when alcohol was masked not only because of its illegality, but because of its poor quality as well. In underground speakeasies, drinks were served in teapots and teacups; whiskey was called “Scottish tea,” and rum – “Jamaican”. It’s possible, then, that the name of this mix, born in the 1970s on Long Island, was an echo of those very same forbidden “tea parties”. Long Island is a gigantic island, stretching all the way from New York City on one side and all the way out to Connecticut on the other. That far end, with its opulent summer homes in Suffolk and Nassau Counties, is considered the official homeland of the cocktail. The town of Babylon is located on these beautiful shores, where the renowned OBI (Oak Beach Inn) operated from 1969 to 2003. According to the best-known version of the story, it was inside its hospitable walls that the first Long Island Iced Tea was mixed by bartender Robert Butt – or Rosebud, for short.
Another story, which enjoys the support of the inventor of the “Cosmopolitan”, Dale DeGroff, says that Craig Weisman, working at Leonard’s in the resort town of Great Neck, first mixed a pitcher of a drink called Leonard’s Iced Tea, featuring five kinds of alcohol, at some young couple’s wedding, and only later did his boys teach the bartenders at OBI the killer recipe.
Somehow or another, the original Long Island Iced Tea can brag about having the greatest number of variations of all types of cocktails.
Alaskan Iced Tea: Blue Curaçao instead of cola
Beverly Hills Iced Tea: Champagne replaces cola
Black Opal: entirely without cola, but with lime soda and Chambord
Blue Motherfucker, or Electric Iced Tea: Blue Curaçao instead of Triple Sec and Sprite instead of cola
California Iced Tea: orange juice instead of cola
Flint or Michigan Iced Tea: ginger ale replaces cola
Grateful Dead: Chambord or Razzmatazz instead of cola
The list can continue infinitely, but it’s time to put a period. Because officially, the Long Island Iced Tea is already dead. Bartenders delivered its death sentence in the summer of 2010. The funeral ceremony, by the name of the 4th Annual Cocktail Burial, took place at the Tales of the Cocktail Festival in New Orleans, and went by informally: an angry mob carried a casket with the cocktail through the nighttime streets to the accompaniment of New Orleans Jazz, followed by an interment. Amen!
Historian: Vladimir Zhuravlev
Journalists: Sara Davis, Samanta Johnson