Modern Bartenders Update ‘80s Vodka Classics

By Jason Horn

The last 20 years or so have been great for cocktails. The art of mixing drinks has seen a modern rebirth, following a long period when tate levels were often questionable at best.

The eighties weren’t the ideal time to be a cocktail geek: Sugary novelty shots (hello, Slippery Nipple), anything with Blue Curaçao, sickly sweet mixed drinks like the Alabama Slammer and, of course, infamous Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers ruled the bar. But as the pendulum always swings, the Reagan years also marked the first stirrings of a coming cocktail revolution, as a series of fresh vodka drinks joined the annals of the classics.

Today, top bartenders are taking inspiration from the days of Betamax, Swatch watches and ALF, concoting clever twists on popular eighties-era drinks that incorporate today’s ingredients, techniques and flavors. We got three bartenders to give us their exclusive recipes perfect for throwing your own Brett Easton Ellis-worthy bash, or just a regular party, for that matter. Bring on the Stoli!

Blender drinks were huge back in the day, and perhaps none captures the spirit of the time better than the Chi Chi, a vodka-based version of a classic Piña Colada, naturally served slushy and frozen. Bartender Karen Grill took inspiration from her Los Angeles home to create a clever twist, combining the original’s coconut cream with horchata, a cinnamony Mexican drink made from rice and almonds you can find at any taqueria in town. Her recipe, served at Long Beach gastropub Beer Belly, includes a homemade horchata that’s super-simple to make: Soak rice, almonds and cinnamon overnight, then blend and strain. It creates a complex twist on the Chi Chi that’s seriously refreshing.

Then there’s the Cosmopolitan. Though Sex and the City popularized the pink drink in the late nineties, the drink was most likely invented in 1985 by a bartender named Cheryl Cook in Miami. The recipe couldn’t be simpler—vodka, orange liqueur, lime juice and a splash of cranberry—but the popularity of the Cosmo really helped kick off the modern cocktail revolution. Birmingham, Alabama-based bartender Feizal Valli loves the Cosmo and features multiple variations on it at his bar The Atomic Lounge. His Brad Green (all of The Atomic’s cocktails are named for the bar’s regulars) swaps a pair of modern mixologist favorite ingredients into the Cosmopolitan formula: St-Germain, an elderflower liqueur from France, and Aperol, a bittersweet Italian aperitif. The drink also calls for an egg white, which contributes rich texture and a nice head of foam, but you can leave that out to make a tarter, more refreshing cocktail.

The Harvey Wallbanger was created in the 1950s, but its straightforward, citrusy recipe ensured it was particularly palatable decades later. The mix of vodka and orange juice with a little of the Italian herbal liqueur Galliano became popular in the sixties and was a favorite for the next few decades. The Frozen Harvey Wallbanger from Denver’s HashTAG cranks up the retro flavor by turning the drink into a blended concoction. The restaurant’s strictly open for breakfast and brunch, and this extra-tangy version is ideal for daytime drinking. The secret? Another eighties favorite: Sunny Delight, which helps balance the sugar and alcohol levels in the drink so that it freezes into a nice smooth slush.

Horchata Chi Chi

by Karen Grill, Beer Belly, Long Beach, Calif.


• 44ml Stoli Vodka
• 15ml. Macadamia nut liqueur (such as Trader Vic’s)
• 44ml. Pineapple juice
• 59ml. Coconut Horchata∗
• 1 cup Ice


Add all the ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a snifter or wine glass and garnish with grated cinnamon, chopped macadamia nuts and pineapple fronds.

∗Coconut Horchata


• 1 cup Long-grain rice
• ½ cup Almonds
• 1 Cinnamon stick
• 1 cup Water
• 355ml. Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut
• 177ml. Unsweetened coconut milk
• ¼ cup Sugar


Combine the rice, almonds, cinnamon and water in a small bowl, cover and let stand overnight. Add the mixture to a blender, along with the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth, then strain out any solids with a wire strainer or cheesecloth. Store in the refrigerator.

Brad Green

by Feizal Valli, The Atomic Lounge, Birmingham, Ala.


• 44ml. Stoli Vodka
• 14ml. St-Germain
• 14ml. Aperol
• 22ml. Lemon juice
• 14ml. Simple syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water)
• 1 egg white (optional)


Add all the ingredients to a shaker and shake without ice. Open the shaker, fill with ice and shake again. Double-strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a few dashes of Angostura Bitters if using egg white or a lemon twist if not.

Frozen Harvey Wallbanger

by Michael Cerretani & Nikki Guard, HashTAG, Denver


• 44ml. Stoli Vodka
• 7ml. Galliano L’Autentico
• 22ml. Orange juice
• 22ml. Sunny Delight


Combine all the ingredients in a bowl or other small container and freeze for several hours or overnight. (Mixture will become slushy but will not freeze solid.) Pour into a blender and blend until smooth, then pour into a highball glass. Garnish with an orange wedge. (Recipe can easily be multiplied to make multiple drinks; use about half a cup of the frozen mixture per serving.)