Cointreau advertising has led me astray before.
In the late 1980s when I donned my tight red pencil skirt and red jacket, and picked up a large phallic flashlight (which being Australian, I called a “torch”, but “phallic flashlight” has a much more pleasing alliteration) and kept the mean streets of Hoyts Regent safe during countless sessions of cinematic masterpieces such as Dirty Dancing, Licence to Drive and Kickboxer, Cointreau advertising was King.
Benson and Hedges advertising was joint King, so these were simpler, happier times, but Cointreau advertising promised me a life of elegant lounging in floor length gowns, sipping a certain brand of Triple Sec on the rocks with handsome men (one at a time) while Roxy Music’s Avalon played.
It all seemed very grown up, in a way that some 30 years later, I still don’t think I have attained.
(Here is Hoyts Regent, now demolished. Because obviously, you’d hate to keep something like this when you could have a soulless multiplex and a brand new office building. Jerks).
I’m in London, writing this with a head cold, surrounded by a mountain of tissues and wanting my mother in the way the Cointreau advertising never alluded to.
So perhaps I should be suspicious of Cointreau advertising as the one source of truth (and potentially explore its possibilities as the one source of cold relief).
But thanks to Cointreau, never have I had an easier time in researching the history of a cocktail as the Sidecar.
In truth, it could have been invented in London or Paris and while we have agreement on the standard ingredients – Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice – the proportions are contested.
But Dita Von Teese via Cointreau advertising tells me that the Sidecar was invented in Paris just post WW1 where a dashing lieutenant would arrive at a bar every night in a sidecar and order a tipple to ward off the cold. Cognac not quite strong enough yada yada yada, the rest is history.
That’ll do me.
It’s an easy one to make, but I’m learning that it isn’t an easy cocktail to make well. Firstly, you need to get your proportions sorted, something that calls for experimentation.
The English version calls for proportions of 2:1:1, the French versions variously 1:1:1, 3:2:2 or 8:2:1.
Around 1934, we start seeing mentions of the cocktail requiring a sugared rim, something I don’t love.
If it’s done with granulated sugar, that’s a very sweet advance party for any cocktail. If it’s done with a sugar syrup, it has the unfortunate visual effect of toothpaste.
I’ve ordered Sidecars at four different bars in four countries (that’s dedication folks), and tried to make it at home and here’s what I’ve learned.
- Most bartenders will need to Google it first (that’s ok, this entire blog is powered by Google research)
- The better the raw ingredients, the better the Sidecar (Robert Simonson says that the Sidecar is “a drink that knows a diamond from a rhinestone” – I have found this to be true, you want good Cognac, Cointreau or another premium brand of Triple Sec and fresh, well-strained lemon juice)
- My favourite Sidecar is not a Sidecar at all, rather a variation on it from London’s The Blind Pig where handsome and clever bartender Gio (who did not need to Google anything in the hour I sat at the bar and watched him work) served up a variation of the Sidecar – the Lime Leaf Side Car made from Martell VS cognac, kaffir lime leaf, lime, honey and egg white. Delicious, and you can see its Sidecar roots, but it ain’t really a Sidecar.
And 4? Anything called a Gin Sidecar – gin, triple sec and lemon juice – is an entirely different cocktail – it’s on the IBA Official List as White Lady, a cousin of the Sidecar, but not a Sidecar. So please, let’s stop that practice immediately.
The Sidecar’s pedigree makes it easy to find in movies.
In the wonderful Mame, the morning after a big party, Aunty Mame, tells Patrick to “run along to Ito and tell him to bring me a light breakfast, black coffee and a Sidecar”.
Not only does she have a butler named Ito, Mame has no qualms about co-opting a child into fetching her drinks. These are the sorts of behaviours that will find you frowned upon by parenting websites, but we’ve all been there and who are we to judge another’s parenting styles?
You’ll also find Sidecars featured in The Bonfire of the Vanities, where Arthur Ruskin declares that he loves a Sidecar and then drops dead after consuming several. Caveat Bibitor “Let the Drinker Beware” (and big thanks to Google for my Latin studies).
But these are both movies we have covered in Shake, Stir, Muddle already – Mame for her stellar coaching of young Patrick in the delicate art of martini making, and Bonfire for the reference to The Bronx which used to be a scary place for wealthy white people but is now a happy hunting ground for affordable real estate as well as being the name of a fine, Vitamin C-bearing cocktail.
So if you’re looking for a cocktail partner for the Sidecar, I’d go with 1982’s Evil Under the Sun, based on the Agatha Christie novel, where Maggie Smith, playing the fabulous Daphne Castle, offers Peter Ustinov’s Hercule Poirot his choice of a White Lady, a Sidecar, a Mainbrace (a White Lady with grapefruit juice instead of lemon juice) or a Between the Sheets (which is a Sidecar with added white rum).
Poirot rejects them all and asks for a Crème de Cassis or a sirop de banana and I have zero words for this man and his appalling taste.
Speaking of taste, if you are ever given a chance to visit the site of my first White Lady, you MUST.
The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo may call a White Lady a Gin Sidecar (and truth be told, may be a little light-handed on the gin), but it is truly a place that dreams are made of.
Declaring that any idiot can design a single hotel room and roll out the same décor across a hotel, some 60 years ago the visionary Alex Madonna and his wife Phyllis started a hotel in southern California that has 110 rooms and suites, each one of them different.
And each an extraordinary visual assault.
We checked into the Austrian Suite – some 76 feet from one wall to the other – and immediately felt the urge to swan about my overnight Archduchy yodelling and eating strudel. I imagine if fate had put us in the Caveman room, I’d have been Yabba Dabba Doo-ing, and the Western Room would likely have seen me endlessly quoting lines from the movies of the man who used to be a beef partner with Alex Madonna, one John Wayne.
The dining room – and the neighbouring café which ran a fine line in strudel – is what my four year old daughter would like our house to look like. The ceiling is festooned with pink flowers – not painted ones, giant cascading 3D objects like decorations for the world’s most privileged high school’s Spring Dance – and cherubs on swings. No can of gold paint between Los Angeles and San Francisco could consider itself safe.
I pulled on the fanciest gear my road-trip wardrobe could support and did sip a Cointreau cocktail under this inverted wedding cake with a handsome man in a grown up fashion. It wasn’t Roxy Music, but Salsa, because Tuesdays are Salsa Night and the Madonna Inn throws its doors open to the local Salsa Club. They fill the floor with jeans and sneakers (a la Jerry Seinfeld, not Victoria Beckham) and enviable hip-swinging side-stepping moves that show that sexy exists outside Cointreau advertising after all.
Just as well.