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Eight retro cocktails ranked worst to best

Written by
Josh Burt

Behold, some cocktails from the past. Some of these would be welcomed back with open arms, others are best consigned to the hungry drains of history.

Long Island iced tea


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For so long, the go-to cocktail for impatient people who just wanted the night to hurry up so they could get plastered and then vomit as soon as it was socially appropriate (around 10pm onwards). The lemon juice and cola was deftly added at the end to distract you from the fact that you’d just asked a barman to pour about 27 different spirits into the same glass for you to drink. Drink three of these and you’ll be speaking fluent Japanese, five and you’ll be naked on a bus crying incoherently.



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There’s nothing exactly wrong with a screwdriver, it’s just that calling it a cocktail seems a bit overly grand. It has two elements – vodka and orange, and in most sane environments it’s now known as ‘a vodka and orange’. Some of you might remember it as a key component in an episode of ‘Fawlty Towers’ when an American couple orders one, and then Basil gets into a right old tizzy about it. Hilarious stuff.

White Russian

For a while in the late 1990s it was impossible to go to a student house party without some moron wandering around in a dressing gown drinking White Russians like he was in ‘The Big Lebowski’. A few parts vodka, some parts Kahlua, then a bit of milk and some ice, the deceptive thing about these is that they taste like harmless milkshakes, so you knock them back like no one’s business, then before you know it you’re standing on the roof of someone else’s house playing wild air guitar. Take it steady.

Cuba libre


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One of the oldest cocktails in the world, some say this history of this one stretches back over 100 years, when Victorian fathers would take some time out from aggressively reading extracts from the Bible to their families to kick back and relax on the porch with a rum and coke. The main issue with these is that, like with screwdrivers, no one calls them Cuba libres any more, they just go with ‘rum and coke’. Not to be confused with the Jack Black wrestling comedy, which is called ‘Nacho Libre’.

Harvey wallbanger


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Supposedly invented in the 1950s, this was a staple among the first true hipsters, who liked to add a generous glug of Galliano to their screwdrivers. The major conundrum with this heady treat has always been how to order one without sounding like a gigantic prick. No one has ever managed it.

Piña colada


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For so long synonymous with the nouveau riche Del Boys up and down the land, the most surprising thing about piña coladas is that they taste bloody lovely. Pineapple juice, rum, coconut cream – it’s literally the flavour of being on holiday. Hence why the only way you can really pull off ordering one of these nowadays is if you’re literally suspended between two palm trees in a hammock, and even then you’ve got to whisper it to a waiter, who will do his damndest not to snort laughter out of his nose.


These days, a Gimlet sounds like the name of a troll from ‘Game of Thrones’ or a depressed beast in ‘Lord of the Rings’, but if you rewind back to the 1950s, this was literally the coolest drink on the planet. So much so that Raymond Chandler even name-checked it in his legendary novel about awkward social situations, ‘The Long Goodbye’. This is basically gin, lime and soda, which makes it ideal for a hot afternoon on one of those fold-out camping chairs in the back garden.

Tequila sunrise

Literally the greatest thing to come out of the 1970s, this saw tequila mixed with orange juice and grenadine syrup to create a hazy sunrise effect in your glass. It became such a premium drink that The Rolling Stones named a tour after it, The Eagles had a hit song with it, and in the late ’80s, Kurt Russell and Mel Gibson starred in a movie about it. To this very day they taste literally identical to sunshine.

Thirsty? Check out our full guide to cocktails in London.

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