Early this summer, a man walked into the City Club in Downtown Los Angeles and handed the bartender, Daniel Ralston, a business card. “Make this if you can,” the guest muttered. The card featured a recipe overlaying an image of a bright orange drink in a V-shaped Martini glass: two parts silver tequila, one part Aperol, a half-ounce of lime juice, four to five drops of orange bitters and a “squeeze of orange juice,” to be shaken well and served up with an orange twist. According to the card, and the man handing it over, this drink was Johnny’s Dream.
I will probably carry this around for the rest of my life. pic.twitter.com/OavcED0Pqj
— Daniel Ralston (@danielralston) June 22, 2023
Ralston, who is used to demanding eccentrics, having even bartended the 2022 Oscars ceremony, quickly went through a few stages of emotions—“confusion, mild annoyance and, ultimately, total respect” he claims—as he built the drink. He took to X to post his unusual encounter; the viral post led to a slew of other bartenders recounting similar tales of business-card drink orders.
“I would get these all the time when I tended bar at the Waldorf Astoria,” replied Jon DeRosa, who notes that for foreign travelers in particular, handing over a business-card recipe overcomes potential language barriers, especially in noisy settings like hotel bars or nightclubs.
Cocktails whose specs are exceedingly prone to personalization are most often seen on the cards. The Martini, for instance, with its choose-your-own-adventure of options—Gin or vodka? Twist or olives? And in what ratios?—seems to be the most popular cocktail recipe to be deployed on a business card.
Noncanonical, sui generis cocktails with a slew of ingredients surely necessitate a card as well. An image of CHUCK’S Drink—an unhinged mix of 13 ingredients, including everything from Malibu rum and Southern Comfort to peach schnapps and “banana liquor”—also went a bit viral among industry circles last year.
But the cocktail recipe business card is certainly no new phenomenon. On the “Smartless” podcast, actress Allison Janney revealed that Carol Burnett has long carried around a business card with an image of her on one side (doing her iconic ear tug) and a recipe for her drink (“a bubblegum pink” Cosmo, reports Janney) on the back.
Fifteen years ago, Esquire’s John Mariani wrote an entire article about this practice, which he, too, participated in. In much of the world, this was still an era before the modern cocktail renaissance. Or, as Mariani wrote in 2008: “Since there are only about a half dozen true bartenders left in the world, with the rest barely capable of making anything other than vodka martinis, I decided that the only way I’d ever get a classic daiquiri, straight up, was to have the recipe printed on the back of my business card so I could hand it to the person behind the bar who might otherwise make it with strawberries or bananas, on the rocks or frozen.”
Of course, a craft-cocktail revolution has since swept the globe; bartenders everywhere, not just at acclaimed cocktail dens, are much improved and knowledgeable about the classic canon. Nevertheless, Mariani finds the Daiquiri is still prone to errors—even, unfortunately, when he presents his business card.
“Often, despite the illustration and instruction to pour into a Martini glass, it comes on the rocks,” Mariani laments. “What part of this card do you not understand?”