These Cocktails Get Into the Groove
Bartenders express themselves with drinks inspired by Madonna as a belated celebration for her 60th birthday.
Cover photo by Geoff Smith
The Alcohol Professor
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Where were you when you first heard a Madonna song? Not every artist’s music seeps into our memory enough that we remember that first association, but Madonna is one of those people.
For me it was late 1983, which was a bizarre, disjointed and incongruous time for pop music. Culture Club, Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper, Billy Idol, Prince, Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, and of course, Duran Duran, all somehow shared chart space with the likes of David Bowie, Inxs and Talking Heads.
I was 12 years old, sorting through a bin at Canal Jean Co. (closed in the early 1990s) when I heard “Everybody” come on the store speaker system. I was with a friend who was already a fan, but I had somehow missed the first wave of Madonna mania. “Find a groove and let yourself go” - that was so cool, and so damn New York! I came in for a fuzzy vintage cardigan, but I’m pretty sure I left with rubber bracelets and fingerless gloves.
Admittedly I was never a massive fan girl - a “Madonna Wannabe” - but I always appreciated what she was doing and her ability to evolve, adapt and reinvent herself. She told Dick Clark that she planned to conquer the world, and she pretty much accomplished that. At least 75% of her first and second albums contained hit singles.
She even managed to pull off a decent first film outing with Desperately Seeking Susan, a cinematic time capsule which is still arguably one of the most treasured 1980s movies, set in a New York City that no longer exists in many ways - including Love Saves the Day, the long gone lower 2nd Avenue shop that was part kitsch emporium, part vintage clothing mecca, where she purchases that cool jacket with the pyramid on the back.
There was no internet culture in the early ‘80s when she started out. Real live DJs played the music, and you needed their respect to succeed. That girl from Detroit didn’t forget the people who helped her mature into a superstar in the Big Apple - the DJs, but also the queer club kids, the Lower East Side artists and assorted outliers.
In 1983 and already a high wattage star, a long legacy of charity work began in part when she headlined a benefit at Danceteria to pay for family expenses for 25 year-old African American graffiti artist Michael Stewart, who died days after his arrest for taking a marker to the wall at the First Ave. L train subway station on his way home from her old haunt, the Pyramid Club.
The officers were all acquitted in the case that followed, but witnesses tell another story about what happened that night.
Much of Madonna’s future artistic choices were all about shock and awe - it’s been said she practically invented the trend of narcissistic reality programming - and that’s where she began to lose me a bit. (Although by the time I caught up to the age Madonna reached when she published Sex, I fully appreciated her dedication to fitness and shamelessness.)
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I finally saw her perform live, and I gained a new appreciation for songs I didn’t even know I liked, such as “La Isla Bonita.”
I saw her again during the Confessions tour in 2006. It was a broiling summer day and she insisted that Madison Square Garden shut off the air conditioning to preserve her voice (I recently learned that was also an Aretha Franklin move - hmmm) . I dealt with the conditions and it was worth it. Now that was a show and she was indeed in what many consider the best voice of her career.
At end of the concert, as the crowd slowly filtered out, collectively dragging our feet and gliding out on our own trails of sweat like a bunch of giant, glittery snails, someone climbed up on an abandoned refreshment stand and yelled, “OK, EVERYBODY! TO THE BRIDGES AND THE TUNNELS!!” We had all come from far and wide to see our adopted hometown hero perform. She pissed us off, she made us uncomfortable, but she did not disappoint. That’s so Madonna.
The lady deserves a belated birthday drink, and here we have several choices! Whether you’re planning a listening party, having a Madonna movie screening, replaying that Letterman clip on Youtube or just want to celebrate the Material Girl, here are some recipes from bartenders who love her.
Holiday #2, photo by Gabi Porter
To celebrate the breakout single that rocketed Madge to international stardom, Erik Trickett, head bartender at Holiday Cocktail Lounge in the East Village (which I like to believe she frequented often in its seedy heyday, perhaps inspiring the name of the song?) offers this signature recipe.
1.5 oz green tea infused vodka (the bar uses Ketel One)
.5 oz apricot liqueur (the bar uses Giffard Abricot du Rousillon)
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup
Garnish: lemon twist
Shake all ingredients with with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass or wine glass. Top with Prosecco and garnish.
Borderline, photo by Noah Fecks
Pete Vasconcellos, The Penrose, New York City
"’Borderline’ is a Piña Colada reimagined as a New York-style pre-Prohibition cocktail. It's on the border of being a tropical resort drink, but it drinks like a speakeasy cocktail that gives you a little punch in the face."
2.5 oz Island Milk Punch (recipe follows - just try to understand and give it all you can)
1 oz pineapple juice
.25 oz simple syrup
Garnish: lime wheel and cherry flag
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail coupe. Garnish.
Island Milk Punch
3 c. dried coconut flakes
3 tbsp turbinado sugar
2 tbsp grains of paradise
750 mL cachaça
200 ml. Giffard Banane du Brésil banana liqueur
1 fresh poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
1 English cucumber, chopped
2 limes, peels only
2 tbsp. black tea
1.5 c fresh lime juice
2 c whole milk, at room temperature
Combine coconut, sugar, grains of paradise, cachaça and banana liqueur in a covered container. Allow to sit in a cool, dry place for one week. Add poblano pepper, cucumber and lime peels, stirring to combine. Cover and allow to sit overnight. Add tea and steep 45-60 minutes. Strain and discard solids. Add lime juice. In a separate container, add the milk, and then slowly add the punch to the milk. The mixture should curdle quickly. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature 18-24 hours, until the mixture "breaks" and the milk curds float on top. Strain the punch through a cheesecloth, unbleached cloth napkin or maple syrup filter, retaining the milk curd solids in the cloth. Strain the clarified milk punch once more through the curds in the cloth. Discard the curds and refrigerate the punch in a covered container for up to one week.
By Rachel Sergi, Washington, DC
1.5 oz Macchu La Diablada Pisco
.5 oz Earl Grey infused Dolin Blanc vermouth (infuse 750 mL with 7 tea bags for 2 hours)
.75 oz Pineapple White Pepper Luster Dust Cordial (pineapple syrup infused with white peppercorns, with 2 oz of luster dust added)
.5 oz lemon juice
2 dashes Regans’ Orange bitters
3 oz club soda
Garnish: long lemon and orange peels (from channel knife)
Add all ingredients, except soda, to mixing tin. Quick shake to incorporate. Strain mixture in to wine glass. Add soda water, then ice. Cut fruit with channel knife and garnish.
Dress You Up, Photo by Frederic Yarm
Add black fingerless lace gloves, black rubber bracelets, and a star earring, if so desired.
Dress You Up
Frederic Yarm, Boston
1.5 oz white/silver rum
.5 oz grapefruit Juice
.5 oz lime Juice
.25 oz Campari
Shake with ice, strain into a coupe glass, and garnish with a grapefruit twist.
Says Yarm: “Madonna loved her Cosmos (editor’s note: the origin story of Toby Cecchini’s Cosmopolitan cocktail from the Odeon and Madonna’s connection to it can be found in my book New York Cocktails), and here the red tinge is not from cranberry but from Campari which symbolizes her Italian heritage. In revising the drink, I was inspired by the Hemingway Daiquiri to take it in a rum and two citrus juice direction.”
Like a Virgin, photo by Mike Di Tota
Like A Virgin
Mike Di Tota, Sweet Afton, Astoria, New York
"’Like a Virgin’ is a little sweet and a little spicy -- like Madonna. The strawberry is fresh and fruity on the front and then the peppercorns give you a little kick on the back end. It's zero-proof, so it's not just like a virgin -- it actually is a virgin cocktail. You can drink them all night long."
.5 oz. chamomile syrup (1:1 simple syrup, steeped with chamomile tea bags to desired strength)
.75 oz. strawberry-pink peppercorn syrup (recipe follows)
.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
Soda to top
Garnish: mint bouquet and fresh strawberry
Add syrups and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a collins glass filled with ice and top with soda. Garnish.
Strawberry-Pink Peppercorn Syrup
8 oz. water
1 c. sugar
1 tbsp. pink peppercorns, slightly bruised
8 oz. fresh strawberry purée
In a small saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil, stirring to combine. Remove from heat and add peppercorns. Let cool to room temperature. Combine with strawberry purée. Refrigerate for up to three days.
Into The Groove
By Charles Hardwick, The Office, NYC
This drink inspired by the single from the Desperately Seeking Susan soundtrack is as effortlessly sippable as the song is still infectiously danceable.
.5 oz Licor 43
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.75 oz Honey syrup
1 oz pineapple juice
Garnish: dusting of coffee powder.
Shake with ice. Strain. Serve up in a cocktail glass. Garnish.
La Isla Bonita, photo by Veronica Rose
La Isla Bonita
Erick Castro, Simple Serve, Inc.
Castro says the drink, much like the song, is “effervescent and chock of island vibes that are perfect for cutting loose and not giving a fuck.” It can be found on the menu at Polite Provisions, San Diego.
1.5 oz white rum (the bar uses Plantation 3 Stars)
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz raspberry syrup
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Garnish: grapefruit twist
Shake all ingredients with ice except rosé. Strain into a flute glass and top w sparkling rosé. Garnish. Dream of San Pedro.
A Special Kind Of Crazy
By Carol Donovan, Intoxicatingly Fun Cocktails, Chicago
Inspired by “Crazy for You”, from the Vision Quest soundtrack, Donovan sought to create a drink that feels like it should be sipped in a smoky room, with “something unexpectedly crazy” - using spirits that don’t typically get mixed together. Vodka was the trendiest of them all when the song originally came out.
1.5 oz premium citrus vodka
.75 oz Amaro Montenegro
.25 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
bar spoon (healthy) Campari
.25 oz smokey Scotch whisky (such as Laphroaig)
Garnish: fresh grapefruit peel
Prepare a cocktail glass by coating the inside with the Scotch. Allow Scotch to sit in the glass until you have finished mixing the cocktail. Place citrus vodka, Amaro Montenegro, and lemon juice into a shaker. Shake with ice. Dump any remaining Scotch out of the cocktail glass and fine-strain the cocktail into it. Drop the bar spoon of Campari into the glass (no need to stir). Express the grapefruit peel over the top and drop into the cocktail.
Serve while belting “I’m crazy for you/Touch me once and you’ll know it’s true/I never wanted anyone like this/It’s all brand new/You’ll feel it in my kiss…”
Let the Choir Sing, photo via Boulton & Watt
Let The Choir Sing
Josh Cameron, Head Bartender, Boulton & Watt, NYC
1.5 oz silver tequila, such as Volcán de Mi Tierra Cristalino (silver medal, 2018 NYISC)
.5 oz Carpano Blanco vermouth
.25 oz Campari
.5 oz ginger syrup
.5 oz lemon juice
4 dashes Angostura Bitters
Shake all ingredients except soda with ice. Strain into a highball glass. Top with soda and dehydrated grapefruit wheel (optional).
Says Cameron: “This cocktail inspired by ‘Like a Prayer’ is like a dream with no end, no beginning, and doves and smoke rising from the dance floor. It’s one part mystery, two parts revival, and in the end, it lets the choir sing.”
In the Midnight Hour
By Anthony Deserio
“Like a Prayer” is about many subjects, but at its heart it’s a catchy late night groove. Here it’s reimagined as an Espresso Martini.
1.5oz Ron Zacapa 23 Solera Rum (23 the hour before midnight)
1 oz fresh brewed espresso or dark roast coffee
Combine in a shaker and toss 5 times till coffee cools a bit. Add large format ice or pack regular ice. Shake hard and fast so as to chill but not over dilute. Fine mesh strain into a chilled coupe.
photo by Geoff Smith
By Geoff Smith, On20, Hartford, CT
1.5 oz Long Road Gin
1 oz Cocchi Americano
1 oz Rinomato Bianco
.5 oz Bénédictine liqueur
Says Smith: “For this stylish cocktail based on the mega hit ‘Vogue,’ like Madonna, the gin is from Michigan, there’s an addition of Italian ingredients to celebrate her heritage and a sprinkle of some monastic Catholic liqueur for good measure. For added style to strike a pose, this stirred drink (just stir all ingredients with ice) is strained and poured over a directionally frozen Madonna ice cube.”
Will Benedetto, Cocktail Curator, In Good Company Hospitality
.75 oz Ilegal Mezcal Joven
.25 oz Green Chartreuse
.5oz Velvet Falernum
1 oz of Butterfly pea flower tea powder floated on top
Combine aquavit, mezcal, Green Chartreuse, and Velvet Falernum in a stirring vessel and stir with ice until properly diluted. Pour over a large ice cube in a rocks glass. Using a bar spoon, gently pour 1 oz of butterfly pea flower tea over top.
Says Benedetto: “In 1994 Madonna released her 6th album Bedtime Stories. This album always stuck out to me as the first where Madonna was really herself the whole way through. She allows herself to be more exposed than previously and even collaborates with Björk on a track. The cocktail is a wild one. Like the album it's all over the place. A stirred and exceptionally boozy cocktail, this is a great one to end your night. Visually the idea was to make it look sort of like the outer-body experience of dreaming while asleep - booze in a glass with an ice cube viewed through a surreal lens with an alien-like green hue and a purple halo. As you pick the drink up and set it down again the drink begins to blend but rather than just homogenizing, the butterfly pea flower reacts with Chartreuse miraculously creating a bright red.”
Justify My Love, photo by Lucinda Sterling
Justify My Love
For the song (with yet another controversial video), a drink that is seductive, spicy, cheekily dirty, with some added romance from the rose water.
1.5 oz vodka (we like 2018 NYISC gold medal winner New Amsterdam to celebrate Madonna’s move to NYC from Detroit)
.5 oz Falernum (Sterling uses Maggie’s Farm, bronze winner, 2018 NYISC)
.25 oz Allspice liqueur
.75 oz fresh lime juice
Garnish: 1 cucumber slice and spritz of rose water
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish.
Candy Perfume Girl, photo by Marcie Anderson
Candy Perfume Girl
By Marcie Anderson, Head Bartender, Bar Daniel, New York City
.5 oz Lillet Rouge
.5 oz Lillet Rosé Syrup (recipe follows)
.5 oz lime Juice
.5 oz simple syrup
2 Dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Lavender gummy candy (available online from select sources) soaked in absinthe
Add all ingredients to shaker. Shake, double strain into gold rimmed coupe glass. Garnish with lavender gummy candy soaked in absinthe and light on fire.
Song Inspiration from Anderson: “Lavender is one of my favorite scents, and I’m seriously obsessed with Striped Lavender Gin (as a judge for 2018 NY International Spirits Competition, we voted them a Double Gold this year!). I wanted to create a gimlet variation with a twist. I know Madonna loves her rosé, so I added a rosé syrup which makes this cocktail super unique and more complex than a basic gimlet. Also, I felt adding lime juice would pump up the brightness and plays so well with the lavender and citrus in the gin. Lastly, I made a star out of a lavender gummy candy, soaked it in absinthe and lit it on fire, to quote the song, ‘Speak delicious Fires…’”
Lillet Rosé Syrup
1 Bottle of Lillet Rose
2.5 oz Simple Syrup
Add to pan over low heat. Reduce by half for one hour. Let cool. Keeps for up to a week.
Hard Candy, photo by Mike Di Tota
By Robert Crowe, Bua, New York City
"I did a bit of research and apparently Madonna is a big fan of pomegranate drinks, so I've created a hybrid twist on a pomegranate Martini and a flip. The name is a bit of a play on the drink: people might expect 'Hard Candy' to be super sweet but it's actually really smooth, light and easily crushable - perfect for the fall season that is approaching. Any type of flower as garnish would work: tiny orchids or even rose petals."
1.5 oz. mezcal
.5 oz. elderflower liqueur
.5 oz fresh lime juice
.5 oz. pomegranate juice
1 egg white
2-3 dashes of rhubarb bitters
Garnish: edible flower of your choice
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Dry shake to emulsify the egg white. Add ice. Shake vigorously. Double strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish.
Frozen, photo by Josh Powell
35 mL Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin (25 mL sloe gin and 10 mL red wine can be substituted if this isn’t available)
20 mL cranberry sherbet or sorbet
10 mL Green Chartreuse
2 dashes absinthe
Garnish: Crème de Cassis drizzle
Says Powell: “A strange departure from Madonna’s usual party-girl character, ‘Frozen’ was a foray into a darker, more gothic vibe. Released in 1998 the video shows Madonna writhing through a parched desert before crashing to the ground and transforming into a flock of crows.”
He says, “I took inspiration from these sights and sounds to combine the more brooding aspects of the Queen of Pop with her more spiritual side. Considering she is credited with helping to popularise the Cosmopolitan in New York this was my starting point.”
Still thirsty for music-inspired drinks? Light a torch and wave it here for cocktails inspired by Duran Duran.