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Shutterstock/ThawornnurakVolodymyr Goinyk

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The Cosmo, Reconsidered

In the early 2000s, the Cosmopolitan was the kind of boozy pop culture explosion the likes of which had yet to be seen. So why do we love to hate it?

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In a latter-day season of Sex and the City, a moment arises when heroine Carrie Bradshaw comes face-to-face with what her next few decades might hold.

"What are we going to do?" She cries to her trio of gal pals over cocktails. "Sit around bars sipping Cosmos and sleeping with strangers when we’re 80?"

By the time Bradshaw began to worry that a life spent in bars might not be the shiniest of futures, her beloved Cosmopolitan—with its electric bubblegum-colored combination of citron vodka, Cointreau, lime and cranberry juice—had already become a character unto itself on the show. Over the span of six seasons, the drink became synonymous with the hoity-toity ways of the Sex and the City crew, who downed Cosmos by the dozen while mulling over their love lives in bass-thumping clubs. For those who reveled in the series’ high-fashion façade, the cocktail was the ultimate conduit for emulating the brassy, bold women—no matter whether you were a Miranda or a Samantha.

Since then, the drink has found itself a more antiquated punchline than menu favorite, with most imbibers looking back on their early 2000s Cosmo consumption with the same shudder and cringe as Carrie’s voracious chain smoking habit.

... the importance of the drink as both a historical marker and zeitgeist cultural movement makes it a stiletto-clad giant in the history of American imbibing.

Such a dismissive attitude, though, is decidedly unfair. It’s all too easy to wave off the Cosmo as a treacly time capsule of all things pre-recession excess. In truth, the importance of the drink as both a historical marker and zeitgeist cultural movement makes it a stiletto-clad giant in the history of American imbibing.

For the better part of a decade, the Cosmo was a bonafide pop culture juggernaut, the likes of which haven’t been seen since in the cocktail world. There were Cosmo-scented candles and air fresheners. The official Sex and the City perfume was called (you guessed it) Cosmopolitan. In the ultimate early aughts mashup, Cosmo-flavored cupcakes appeared in bakeries across the country in eye-popping shades of synthetic pink. There are still companies out there selling "personalized" Cosmo glasses. The Cosmo was in the swankiest bars on either coast and in shopping mall food courts. It was an omnipresent force that was unprecedented for a cocktail. Sure, country-wide drink crazes had happened before, but none with such Pepto-Bismol-hued depth and breadth.

What’s more, for many women, drinking a Cosmo was a way to feel refined and empowered, a sippable passport to the glamour and glitz of big city life without having to commit to an airplane ticket. A gaggle of girlfriends in Omaha couldn’t very easily step out for a Birkin bag shopping spree, but they could order a round of Cosmos at The Cheesecake Factory and feel a special kinship with their favorite Manhattan-based heroines.

L: The Cosmopolitan at imminent Los Angeles restaurant Viviane. Photo courtesy of Viviane. R: New York institution Daniel's White Cosmopolitan. Photo by Noah Fecks.

There’s a distinct beauty in the kind of drink that has the ability to lift a person out of the day-to-day grind. Equal parts accessible and aspirational, the Cosmo quickly became that cocktail for scores of women, cutting across social class and geographical boundaries.

Today, the Cosmo isn’t quite nostalgic enough to cheekily revive, but too dated to serve without some sort of fumbling caveat. Unless accompanied by a good deal of explanation, a Cosmo on a craft cocktail menu can seem like the tiara-wearing prom queen who keeps returning to school dances post-graduation.

... a Cosmo on a craft cocktail menu can seem like the tiara-wearing prom queen who keeps returning to school dances post-graduation.

Increasingly, though, the second coming of the Cosmo has been stealthily building, pulled out from the back of the drinks closet like one of Carrie Bradshaw’s questionable outfits. At Trattoria Bianca in New York, a five-drink flight of Cosmos (including a pear version and the "Metropolitan" made with raspberry vodka and blue Curaçao) quietly hit menus this summer. Ryan Wainwright, who is behind drinks at Los Angeles' forthcoming Viviane restaurant inside Beverly Hills' Avalon Hotel, has a Cosmo on the menu, built from vodka, cranberry cordial, dry Curaçao and fresh lime. And while not a new menu addition by any means, the White Cosmopolitan at Manhattan stalwart Daniel—complete with an orchid encapsulated in an orb of ice—has successfully survived the Cosmo’s dry spell.

The likelihood that a single drink could become a national touchstone ever again feels like a near impossibility. At this point, we’re all too jaded. We have tinctures and bitters and housemade syrups by the barrelful. Moreover, we have feelings about these ingredients. We have flash-in-the-pan cocktail trends, and backlash, and backlash to the backlash. We know too much for a cocktail to infiltrate our lives with such epidemic voracity. We’re in too deep.

The Cosmo’s importance, though, as a bookend to the dark ages of cocktails and bridge into our modern, buzzy landscape of nerdy imbibing makes it both a touchstone and winding wheel. Sure, people glossing over the surface will always consider it the liquid equivalent of shopping for a pair of Jimmy Choos. Those in the know, however, continue to quietly revere the Cosmo for its place in history as the most unlikely boozy revolutionary of the past two decades.

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