When we lived in Florida, Donna and I darkened many a thrift shop door. It was Palm Beach, and you never knew what you might uncover. We were also terribly romantic for the Old World, which to us could be the 1950s, ’40s, or the Jazz Age, but especially the latter. Visions of Old Palm Beach were everywhere, and they were all so much finer to believe in than our everyday lives, my crappy temp jobs and cheap-Scotch hangovers, struggling to be F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was Fitzgerald who wrote one of the most gorgeous paragraphs ever about the island in his day. I could actually stand on my mother’s balcony in West Palm, which overlooked the Intercoastal, aka Lake Worth, with its beautiful view of the island, the Breakers Hotel and the ocean in the distance, and imagine. I once committed it to memory:

“Palm Beach sprawled plump and opulent between the sparkling sapphire of Lake Worth, flawed here and there by house-boats at anchor, and the great turquoise bar of the Atlantic Ocean. The huge bulks of the Breakers and the Royal Poinciana rose as twin paunches from the bright level of the sand, and around them clustered the Dancing Glade, Bradley’s House of Chance, and a dozen modistes and milliners with goods at triple prices from New York. Upon the trellissed veranda of the Breakers two hundred women stepped right, stepped left, wheeled, and slid in that then celebrated calisthenic known as the double-shuffle, while in half-time to the music two thousand bracelets clicked up and down on two hundred arms.”

—from “The Rich Boy

Ah, but youth grows old, the best crack up, and the Royal Poinciana, a hotel built of wood, burned to the ground. But for us, Donna and me, happily, things worked out. So I can sit out on our suburban porch tonight and raise a Sidecar to Donna and say, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” We made out all right. And we never forget that it can go south on you at any moment.

…Where was I? Thrift shops! That’s what got me started on this. One of the many “treasures” Donna came home with was a lovely old cocktail pitcher, clearly made for serving groups (the edge of it is in the left of the above photo by Donna). The kind C.K. Dexter Haven might use to replenish the glass of Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story. It has a sliding ring around its upper rim revealing various cocktails of the day and was where I first read of actual cocktails, ones that seemed to mean something more than what was common in our day (the vodka “martini” and Sex on the Beach [Who came up with that name? He or she obviously has never tried it—it’s not so much fun!]). Drinks named Horse’s Neck and Sidecar….

The Sidecar seems to have been around since Fitzgerald’s youth. Cocktails that stick around tend to do so for a reason.

So here’s to Fitzgerald’s prose, and to Donna, and to other things that last.

Happy Friday, all.

The Sidecar

Every Sidecar I’ve had has been 50% too sour. The proportions below may not be traditional but they make for a more well-balanced elixir.

  • 2 ounces brandy
  • 1 ounce Cointreau
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • lemon twist
  1. Combine all the ingredients except the lemon twist in a mixing glass.
  2. Add copious ice and stir well for a minute or two.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with lemon.

If you liked this post on the Sidecar, check out these other links:

© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved


14 Wonderful responses to “Friday Cocktail Hour:
The Sidecar”

  • Auntie Allyn

    Ooooh, I do so love a good Sidecar cocktail. It’s such a shame that many bartenders have no clue how to make one! I’m thinking that you don’t sugar the rim of the glass . . . it does make the drink a bit messy, but that’s the way I’ve always had them.

    • Doug Walton

      Take a small plate and put a few teaspoons of sugar on it, and shake the place horizontally to create a thin, even layer of sugar across the plate (1mm max). Put the glasses into the freezer for 10+ minutes. Pull them out, and in about 10-15 seconds a micro-layer of condensation will form on them. Invert the glass, place it on the sugared plate, do a couple of gentle circular motions of the glass, and voila – perfectly sugared rim.

  • Jay Price

    Sugaring the rim of a sidecar is akin to bedazzling the Mona Lisa.

  • tkw

    most sidecar recipes assume a sugar rim. without a sugar rim, it will be too sour as you’ve discovered. i have lost my taste for rimmed glasses so my recipe is more like yours + 1/4 simple + 1/4 more lemon. i shake, but am not dogmatic about shaken vs stirred.

    i like delord armagnac for sidecars. i also sometimes like to swap 1/4 oz apricot liqueur for 1/4 oz of the cointreau.

    also there’s this:

  • robin

    I have been enjoying Sidecars for years! Before the cocktail culture took hold…and the lemon really helps fight colds in the winter. 😉

    I like the juice of one lemon per drink – big fan of the lemon.
    Typically do not sugar the rim. Drink mine in a frozen antique coupe style glass.

  • Kevin

    Two schools of thought…

    Both MacElhone and Vermiere state the recipe as equal parts cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, now known as “the French school”. Later, an “English school” of Sidecars emerged, as found in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), which call for two parts cognac and one part each of Cointreau and lemon juice [1].


  • Allen

    Nice post.
    A sidecar makes you feel like a person of significance.
    I last had them on oscar night.

    Very class friendly cocktail.

    The working class use less expensive brandy.
    A bit upper uses VS cognac.
    And all the way up, to rich, fucked up idiots using XO or Napoleon.
    But it makes the working class feel rich for a day.
    A thing of beauty.
    Cheers, happy Friday all!

  • Artusi

    Sidecar. My favorite. I recommend going with E&J XO cognac. Costs less than French VS and really works in this cocktail.
    Or make it a longer drink, served in a tall glass, adding 4oz Schweppes tonic; the bitter astrigency of the tonic adding a complementary element to the balanced liqor.

  • Cecilia

    Love sidecars! I agree that most places make them too sour. I especially like making them with Calvados & Meyer lemon. Cheers!

  • Betty

    I like them sour with a rim of sugar but I’m looking forward to trying this version as an alternative.

  • JohnnyK

    Sidecars are great. As a future Friday Cocktail Hour suggestion, here in Minnesota the Rhubarb is in full swing and we are making Rhubarb Shrubs. Its kinda funky with the vinegar but it really cuts the sweetness of the rhubarb syrup. Give it a try. Cheers!

  • josh

    Sometime last year, I had a fig-infused Sidecar at Cleveland’s own Greenhouse Tavern (always, always on top of their game — I’m still waiting for a mistake in each experience but never find one). The fruit gave it a nice body and balanced out the sour aspect in a traditional Sidecar.


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