These Cocktails Were Made Famous by Classic Movies

Bartender Paul O’Halloran breaks down the vintage cocktails that movie stars made famous.

Lizbeth Scordo Restaurants

Paul Bar/Food owner Paul O'Halloran breaks down famed movie cocktails.

Life imitates art, the saying goes, even when it comes to our cocktails.

When we spot a favorite fictional character ordering an adult beverage, we often follow suit. Think James Bond and the Vesper Martini or Carrie Bradshaw and crew with their oversized Cosmopolitans. Even cocktails dating back to the midcentury era and beyond have enjoyed a boost from 15 minutes of fame.

“Absolutely, that influences what people ask for,” says Paul O’Halloran, owner of Paul Bar/Food in Palm Springs and a longtime bartender whose resume includes Mesa Grill and Bar Centrale in New York.

“I’ll never forget watching Mad Men, and in this one episode, they were drinking Stingers. I thought, ‘Oh, I bet this week people are going to start ordering them. And, sure enough, people were suddenly ordering Stingers.”

Here, we present four vintage drinks you’ve seen on screen worth sampling the next time you imbibe.

Singapore Sling

Where you’ve seen it: Hunter S. Thompson’s favorite cocktail appeared in his 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and, perhaps more notably, his 1998 film of the same name in the memorable scene where Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, played by Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro, respectively, get snookered on several of the tropical-style, fuchsia-hued drinks — replete with pineapples and paper umbrellas — against the backdrop of the equally pink Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

What’s in it: Gin, cherry brandy, Benedictine, pineapple and lime juices, and Angostura bitters. Some recipes call for Grand Marnier to give it an extra orange boost.

The expert’s take: “That’s totally a Tiki drink. It’s crazy there are so many ingredients, lots of juices,” O’Halloran says. “The end result is one really tasty flavor that tastes tropical and boozy at the same time. It’s like a perfect party drink. You could do a punch bowl of it, too.”

“I’ll never forget watching Mad Men, and ... people were suddenly ordering Stingers.”
Paul O’Halloran


Where you’ve seen it: You’ll spot it in the James Bond flick Diamonds Are Forever, when both the spy himself and Bond girl Tiffany get stung by Stingers. In the 1950s film High Society, starring Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, Crosby mansplains the origins of the drink’s name to Grace Kelly’s character. A few years later in Kiss Them for Me, Cary Grant’s fighter pilot character implores the bartender to keep ’em coming. More recently, the drink reached a new generation during the aforementioned episode of the booze-fueled retro series Mad Men.

What’s in it: Two odd-couple ingredients, Brandy and white crème de menthe (a peppermint liqueur). The drink is served neat, usually in a coupe.

The expert’s take: “It’s a simple drink, and that’s the thing. Back then, they just wanted to get drunk,” O’Halloran says, laughing. “When I grew up, people were all just drinking 7&7s. Nothing too complicated.” O’ Halloran has his own Mad Men anecdote: “When the show was in its heyday, some of the actors — Jon Hamm [Don Draper] and John Slattery [Roger Sterling] — came into Bar Centrale a lot. That bar looks like a ’50s-style bar anyway. One night I literally turned the corner and saw the two of them sitting there. That was fun.”

Moscow Mule

Where you’ve seen it: The fizzy, fiery drink dates back to the 1940s (and, by most accounts, was invented at a British pub on L.A.’s Sunset Strip). It made a major comeback over the last decade and became the most Googled beverage of 2017. Since then, the cocktail usually served in a copper mug to keep it frosty has appeared at legal lunches on Better Call Saul, received the presidential treatment in House of Cards, and touched plenty of cosmetically enhanced lips on the Real Housewives reality franchise.

What’s in it: Vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer, usually served in a hammered copper mug and garnished with a lime wedge or wheel.

The expert’s take: “You’d call that drink ‘hot’ because of the heat of the ginger. You’re going to feel it. And then you’ve got the acidity of the lime juice,” explains O’Halloran, adding that those bold flavors especially stand out since the only alcohol in the drink is vodka, a rather neutral sprit. O’Halloran, however, prefers a Dark and Stormy -- pictured above --  which swaps the vodka out for a different liquor. “A Dark and Stormy uses Goslings, a dark rum that’s from Bermuda and has got a richer flavor,” he says.

Brown Derby

Where you’ve seen it: The drink itself hasn’t been on screen as much as the chain of restaurants it was named after. Brown Derby was most famous for its first location on Wilshire Boulevard — a building designed to resemble an actual brown derby hat. The iconic eatery was the backdrop for episodes of I Love Lucy and The Fugitive, while another location served as the exterior of Arnold’s Drive-in on Happy Days. Several of the Brown Derby restaurants also hosted celebrity regulars, from Jean Harlow to Joan Crawford to Cary Grant.

What’s in it: Bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup served up with a wedge of grapefruit.

The expert’s take: “We don’t get calls for that much. It’s a bourbon drink and people don’t always go for bourbon-based drinks, but there are a few customers who love it. People don’t realize that bourbon and lemon or orange or grapefruit go really well, and you can do a lot with bourbon and juice.” At Paul Bar, O’Halloran does his own play on a bourbon-and-juice concoction with a drink he invented called the Terra Alta. “It’s bourbon, red wine, cassis, and lime juice on the rocks. It’s sounds odd, but it’s delicious,” he shares. “I always tell my bartenders to recommend it as a nightcap. It should be the last drink of the night, and the wine and bourbon make you feel warm and fuzzy.”