It makes sense that Prohibition-era cocktails are making a resurgence at the same time as craft cocktails, because the people who are willing to spend $14 on a cocktail are the same people who are deeply enamored with being able to have a drink that was once served in a speakeasy. As a result, you're probably frequently swilling the same cocktails your grandma was, assuming Granny was a cool-ass flapper chick in the 1920s.
Many bars across town have old-school cocktails on the menu -- you've probably seen a few Vieux Carres and Scofflaws and Bee's Knees -- and they're done with varying degrees of success. If not made by someone who knows what the hell they are doing, a person who can actually call themselves a mixologist without looking like a complete douche, these cocktails can be unbalanced, overly sweet or bitter, and not even resemble their namesakes.
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At Vagabond on Lower Greenville, the selection of Prohibition-era cocktails is impressive, if a little predictable. But in the Airmail, a recipe first published in a 1949 Esquire cocktail book, Vagabond has created a cocktail that is sophisticated without being pretentious, balanced without being boring, and probably too sippable. As we lurch into patio season, assuming the rain ever stops, you'll want to have at least Airmail a week as you sit on the patio at Vagabond and listen to Billy Joe Shaver or whatever live music they've got going on there.
At Vagabond, the Airmail is made with Flor de Cana rum, sparkling wine, honey, and lime juice. The menu claims that the sparkler is Champagne, but after confirming with my server, it is actually Wycliffe sparkling wine, which comes from California. Wycliffe is a perfectly respectable bottle for a $10 cocktail, so there's really no need to seem more pretentious than this drink actually is. It is actually a simple, fresh cocktail, served without a garnish, something that is refreshing considering that I've recently had to pick edible flowers, woody stems of thyme, and other various herbs out of my drinks lately.
You may at first balk at the combination of rum and champagne -- sounds like the hangover of your nightmares, right? -- but it works. The grapefruit notes of the brut champagne work well with the honey and lime, and help keep the cocktail from turning too sweet. Flor de Cana is smooth, sweet, and just a little smoky with a citrusy finish. It's the kind of rum you can take shot after shot of without feeling like you're drinking diesel. That is, of course, until you wake up the next morning and realize what you've done.
Despite being just a little boozy, this is the kind of cocktail that should be served in a pitcher, poolside. The flavors themselves aren't necessarily summery or seasonal in any way, but the sweet simplicity of the Airmail is exactly what you want when you're trying to get sloshed in the sunshine. With such a simple recipe, it shouldn't be hard to replicate for summer day-drinking purposes. Or, you could just post up on the patio at Vagabond, do a little people-watching, and sip on an Airmail (or three) until you feel like you're a 21st century Gertrude Stein or something.