Booze: The Southside Mystery

The Southside cocktail is a quintessential, yet underrated hot weather cooler. It's a refreshingly light mix of gin, mint, lemon or lime, and sweetness, perfect for a summer's evening. The only uncertainty is its birthplace.

The most popular claim is that the drink originated in Chicago, during Prohibition, where leaders of the Irish South Side gang, Frankie McErlane and Joe Saltis, devised a means of concealing the taste of the lousy gin they were moving.

The competing story, from New York, is that the drink originated at the Southside Sportsmen's Club in the Hamptons. The drink was a specialty of the 21 Club in New York, and continues to be a favorite amongst the country-club set in that part of America.

Life is full of bizarre coincidences, and I firmly believe both stories are correct. For indeed, the Chicago South Side (two words) is made with gin, mint, sugar and lime, whereas the New York Southside (one word), is made with gin, mint, sugar and lemon. They are different cocktails. Not drastically so, but enough to convince me they were invented for the same reason--to cover up bad American gin.

We have great gin these days, and I'm happy to drink a South Side, a Southside, or both.

Chicago South Side

  • 2 ounces gin
  • ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • 2 sprigs spearmint
  • Small lime wedge

Lightly muddle one sprig mint and lime wedge in a mixing glass. Add lime juice, syrup and gin. Shake with ice, strain into a glass with crushed ice. Garnish with another sprig of mint. If you use ice cubes instead of crushed ice, cut the syrup to ½ ounce. Two dashes of Angostura bitters are optional.

New York Southside

  • 1½ ounce gin
  • ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons simple syrup
  • 2 sprigs spearmint

Lightly muddle one sprig mint and lemon juice in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add gin, syrup and a fistful of ice. Shake 21 times (for the 21 Club), strain onto the rocks and garnish with the other sprig of mint. Two ounces of gin will make it stronger and slightly sweeter.

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