With a new season of Sex and the City about to go into production, Lucy Britner looks at some of film & TV’s most celebrated drinks and drinkers and asks just how much influence they have had on what we order at the bar.
“Why did we ever stop drinking these?” Miranda asks Carrie of the Cosmopolitan at the end of the first Sex and the City film. “Because everyone else started,” she replies.
From SATC to Mad Men, James Bond, Entourage and all the way back to The Thin Man in the 1930s, the world of TV and film has given us some famous drinks – and some infamous drinkers. But exactly how much sway do films and TV shows have over what we drink? And were some of these trends destined to happen anyway?
“I had to learn how to make a Cosmopolitan because of Sex and the City,” says bartending legend Salvatore ‘The Maestro’ Calabrese, who, in usual circumstances can be found at The Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel in London. “I’d never heard of it but people started asking for it.”
Calabrese explains that in the US, serves usually featured more cranberry juice, whereas in Europe, just enough was added to give the drink, which is “basically a twist on a Kamikaze”, a pink hue.
The Maestro says that in the late 90s and early 2000s, when SATC was airing, more women took an interest in bars, cocktails, Cosmos and twists on Martinis. He also points out that it was the era when London’s bar scene was really coming to life. LAB in Soho opened its doors in 1999 and Match around the same time.
Calabrese says until the 90s, bars were “taboo” and media coverage centred around chefs and wine. “These shows helped to bring bars and bartending to peoples’ attention,” he says.
Which came first?
There is, however, a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. New York-based cocktail historian David Wondrich (author of Punch) says that both SATC and Mad Men were influential, “but not to the extent touted by their fans”. “The Cosmopolitan/drinks in Martini glasses and Old-Fashioned trends were already growing before the shows,” he says, “but they certainly did give them each a boost.”
And as for rye whiskey (a key component in Don Draper’s Old Fashioned), it was already a thing. “Rye was in all the cocktail bars and had been a thing since about 2003,” says Wondrich. “But again, the show worked like a booster rocket that kicked in just in time to put the spirit to escape velocity.”
Mad Men also did great things for Canadian Club sales, according to brand marketing agency Hollywood Branded, which was responsible for the placement. The agency says on its site that after seven consecutive years of declining sales, Canadian Club obtained 4.3% annual sales growth since it debuted on the show. “While Beam does not attribute all the sales growth to the TV exposure, the company believes it has reinvigorated popular perceptions of the product,” Hollywood Branded notes.
Indeed, product placement is important and John Gakuru, who used to manage LAB in the early 2000s and is now US director of sales & marketing for specialist drinks agency Sweet&Chilli, describes a “never ending merry-go-round of alcohol brand sponsorships in TV and movies”. He used the example of Avión Tequila which launched itself, with great success, in HBO’s comedy-drama series Entourage.
One of Avión’s founders is a childhood friend of the show’s creator and it’s widely reported that not a penny changed hands to get Avión into the script. Gakuru says the show even “goes so far as to have a scene where Patrón was rejected in favour of Avión”. “This is a very, very powerful part of the marketing mix,” he adds. The show did wonders for the brand and the owners eventually sold it to global drinks giant Pernod Ricard.
Gakuru says it is clear that movies, TV and music can significantly move the needle when it comes to brands and cocktails.
And none have consistently attracted as much attention as James Bond and the Martini.
“Ian Fleming not only changed the spirit but he changed the method,” says Calabrese, pointing out that before Bond, a Martini was always gin and never shaken. Gakuru also highlights the James Bond effect. “Unfortunately anyone ordering a shaken vodka Martini in my bar in London in the early 2000s would elicit the largest, slowest and most obvious of eye rolls,” he says. “I mean, is the customer always right?!”
This departure from the original recipe caused a stir in the bar world – and a missed opportunity for Calabrese. In 2005, the Maestro was hosting a Casino Royale party at his bar at the time, Salvatore at Fifty. He served a Martini to the film’s director Martin Campbell, who was so impressed he said Calabrese should appear in the film. The Maestro refused: “I said I would not go on a movie and demonstrate the wrong way to make a Martini.” That’s dedication to the cause.
And though Gakuru wasn’t a fan either, he concedes that James Bond’s ‘vodka Martini, shaken not stirred’ is the cocktail that was the most ordered in his tenure behind the bar.
Though according to Gakura, the trend has since died away, “as Bond has shifted his drinking habits around, in line with the franchise’s sponsorship deals”.
Of course, the role of TV and film in drinking culture didn’t start with 007, Wondrich used the example of The Thin Man, which was released the year after Prohibition ended in the US. “The Thin Man was early and very influential on setting up the idea of the cocktail as glamorous, progressive and fun,” he says. “Of course, that was in the 1930s, and a lot has happened since.” It was so influential that the glass frequently used during the film’s copious cocktail drinking became known after the lead characters, Nick and Nora.
Meanwhile, the jury is out on whether a single show or movie is likely to have such influence again. Speaking about The Thin Man and Bond, Wondrich points out that “both of those things were before cable TV and the internet fragmented audiences. Modern things can be influential, but it’s harder for them to push across demographics.”
Calabrese concurs, suggesting that today it is the power of social media that helps to spread drinks trends. So, if the Cosmo makes a comeback with the new season of SATC, it’ll probably be down to Instagram.