There are only so many ways one can orient a piece of citrus garnish on a cocktail, and yet, it’s still possible to be delighted by those orientations. Case in point: the slices of citrus balanced perfectly horizontally across the top of a glass like a smile.
An obvious locus for the current trend is the Garibaldi as popularized by New York’s Dante; both James Park, drinks director of Toronto’s Mother Cocktail Bar, and Adrienne Stillman, author of Spirited, cite the New York bar as inspiration for their iterations on the garnish trend. But the smiley citrus garnish goes far beyond the Garibaldi. It’s on the Navarrico at Quattro Teste in Lisbon and on L’Ora del Bitter at Camparino in Milan (as a wedge of orange jelly). Smiley slices appear atop Palomas at New York City’s Discolo, Shawnee, Kansas’ Wild Child and Charleston, South Carolina’s Last Saint. The phenomenon has even transcended citrus—smiley passion fruit has been spotted atop a high-concept Pornstar Martini. The style is clearly here to stay.
As with any good garnish, the smiley citrus is not just about appearances. At Brooklyn’s Fritz Cocktail Bar, the Flapper Fling—made with tequila, Campari, orange juice and crème de cacao—is meant to evoke a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. To emphasize the effect, the drink is finished with an orange slice that’s dusted with freshly grated cacao and then balanced upward. Garnishes “should lead the guests in a direction as far as how you want them to enjoy the drink,” says Fritz beverage director Cody Goldstein. “Having it across the top tells the guests, Hey, I want you to take this and take a bite of it.”
Similarly, the right-side-up smiley citrus can denote that a drink is dialed-in, or give a bartender more control over how it’s experienced. “If you have a Margarita, my bartenders are always going to give you a wedge [on the side] because some people like a little more lime juice than others,” says Monica Amestoy, bar manager at Portland’s Tusk. “When I put it in the drink, it’s me being, like, No, this is supposed to be this amount of citrus flavor.” Tusk’s Thinking Straight—a nonalcoholic drink made with grapefruit, strawberry shrub and green mint tea—is topped with a smiley salted grapefruit wedge.
Of course, in the Instagram age, the garnish’s symmetrical aesthetic appeal can’t be overstated. The smiley citrus adds a sense of finesse, according to Park. “The whole look is simplicity, and I believe that cocktail trends are going much more simple over time,” he says. Taking it a step further, Park cuts grapefruit and oranges, like the one that appears on Mother’s Negroni Ristretto, into straight-sided slices instead of angled wedges. “It looks cleaner,” he says.
Meanwhile, at Uncle Nicky’s in Austin, Texas, the choice to serve the Garibaldi with a smiley citrus balanced across the glass is largely a pragmatic one. The wedge—nearly a quarter of an orange—would cause a weight difference if placed on the rim, according to co-owner Nic Yanes. “It’s too large,” Yanes says. Into the glass it goes.