There is a large faction of drinkers for whom warm weather means gin-and-tonic weather, but for generations of east coast country clubbers, summers are meant for Southsides.
Like a lot of classic cocktails, the origin of the Southside, a refreshing combination of gin, sugar, lemon (or lime) and mint, are still fiercely debated. A few years ago, NPRÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“Day to DayÃ¢â‚¬ devoted an entire segment to its history, making the case that the drink was an invention of Prohibition-era ChicagoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s notorious Southside Irish gangs. The theory is that since the Northside gangs secured superior bootleg spirits, the Southside bunch, which was affiliated with Al Capone, were left to mask the taste of their inferior hooch with lots of lemon and citrus.
Another Prohibition-era landmark, ManhattanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“21Ã¢â‚¬ Club, which began life as Jack and CharleyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s speakeasy, is also said to have been the birthplace. True or not, Ã¢â‚¬Å“21Ã¢â‚¬ serves an excellent Southside, which has long been one of its signature drinks.
A third theory has been put forth by Wall Street Journal columnist Eric Felten, who believes that the Southside was born in the early 20th century at the Southside SportsmenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Club, a private club on Long Island where moneyed New Yorkers went to fish, hunt, and enjoy the powerful minty libations on offer at the club bar. (It was the mint that separated the drink from a plain old Tom Collins.) The same men would also have been members of the Rockaway Hunting Club, the Maidstone Club, and Piping Rock, which explains, says Felten, Ã¢â‚¬Å“how the cocktail spread to become the definitive summer drink of the country-club set.Ã¢â‚¬
The 1930 cocktail book of LondonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Savoy Hotel has a recipe for the Southside that calls for the mint to be shaken with gin, lemon, juice, sugar, and ice, which is the identical to the Ã¢â‚¬Å“21Ã¢â‚¬ ClubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s method. These days, country clubs, and anyone else making the Southside in bulk, tend to use simple syrup or, for a real short cut, simple syrup infused with mint. Gin and lemon is still considered the classic combination, but variations abound. In Tom WolfeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Bonfire of the Vanities, the British reporter Peter Fallow drinks his Southside with vodka. In MarylandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hunt country, the spirit of choice is Mount Gay rum. Some folks even add a drop of bitters, which is not a bad additionÃ¢â‚¬”Fee Brothers Old Fashion bitters go exceedingly well with the complex flavors of gin.
No matter which recipe you choose or what, indeed, the SouthsideÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s origins may be, it is an elegant, refreshing drink for the season, made all the better by its rather subdued fame. Let us hope that the Southside, brainchild of speakeasy or sporting club, stays quietly among us and does not fall prey to mojito or martini madness, complete with mango versions and silly names. In its current state, it is a very cool customer and the perfect augur of a perfect summer to come.
2 ounces gin
Ã‚¾ ounce simple syrup
Ã‚¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
5 mint sprigs, plus sprig for garnish
2 pieces lime or lemon
Ã‚¾ ounces club soda
Place mint leaves and lime or lemon pieces at the bottom of a cocktail shaker and crush with back of spoon or muddler to release essential oils. Add and shake well. Pour into goblet or Collins glass filled with ice, top with club soda, and garnish with mint.
Variations: For a Southside Royale, add dry Champagne rather than club soda. HendrickÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s gin is especially good in this combination.
For a pitcher of Southsides, do the math according to how many you want to serve, muddle the citrus and mint at the bottom of a pitcher, add remaining ingredients and stir vigorously until blended. Top with the club soda.
The 21 Club Southside Cocktail
2 ounces vodka, gin, or white rum
juice of one lemon
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
Place all ingredients in a shaker and shake vigorously to bruise mint leaves.
Strain into chilled Collins glass filled with ice.
Pictured above, left: William Yeoward’s Country Covered Pitcher from Corzine & Co. is not only beautiful, but perfect for keeping bugs away from outdoor libations
Right: William Yeoward’s Jezebel Juicer from Corzine & Co. is the chicest way we can imagine to squeeze citrus for summer drinks.