Pretty in Pink

Cocktail chic

The cosmopolitan is dead.

I know, I know. I enjoy that particular vodka martini too, vibrant as it is like an Art Deco building on Ocean Drive. But the cosmo is so passé it has become an umbrella drink, and you can get a frozen one at, appropriately enough, Big Pink. In the lounges like Rumi and Tantra, South Beach bartenders smirk when you order one. Servers sigh. Dates yawn. The message is clear: If you gain a cosmopolitan, you lose points in the originality department. You can't think for yourself. You are a tourist from Alabama, and you will no doubt tip badly.

What's a self-respecting, modern-day Miami girl to do? First whine (which I'm good at), then wean (which I'm not good at). But obviously it's time to try on a different shade of pink. Make it one called the kir royale.

Before I ever met the cosmopolitan, which I freely admit still often fits like a clapper to the bell of my hand (I told you I'm not good at weaning), I courted the come-hither kir royale. Both drinks are gorgeously hued in a color I just can't, unfortunately, wear unless it's as a stain on a white shirt. Both have the ability to pack a Chyna-size wallop. But the similarities end there. Where the vodka-infused cosmopolitan has been shamelessly trendy, the bubbly-based kir royale is notably classy. When the martini glass sweats, the champagne flute glows. While the cosmo says, "I've had a hard day at the office," the royale says, “I work for myself, and it's not at a day job."

When I think about having a signature drink -- if such a thing is possible -- I'd like it to be the kir royale, smacking of mellow fruitiness. I admire how it seems mysterious but, at heart, is relatively uncomplicated, made up of only five ounces of champagne and two of crème de cassis, distilled from black currants, plus a lemon twist for garnish. I appreciate its sophistication, released into the air along with its gentle carbonation. I adore the fact that it hasn't been done to the point that the masses have gotten hold of it. That its image is as cool, collected, and pastel as Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars.

Only problem is, I keep forgetting to order it. I just can't remember that I want it to represent me.

Perhaps it is because, like Paltrow's body weight or perpetually couture gown, the kir royale seems to me the unattainable ideal; I am neither mysterious nor (I have been told) uncomplicated. Or maybe it is because the kir royale, or "champagne kir" as author Henry McNulty refers to it in Vogue Cocktails, is simply too darn likable. A grown-up Shirley Temple. The fizzy equivalent of a wine cooler. No doubt a drink for nondrinkers. And while I sort of remember oh so many eons ago when wine was as anathematizing as, say, Lysol, I am now nothing if not a dedicated consumer. I don't need added flavorings to make fermentation more palatable. For the record I want nothing to interfere with the rotting grape.

More likely, though, I neglect to order a kir royale over a cosmopolitan (or a glass of plain, lightly chilled pinot grigio, for that matter) because, while just as flirty a drink, it frankly doesn't come as easily to mind. Its name, wonderfully French and therefore exotic, doesn't evoke the champagne cocktail the way that a vodka and tonic or a gin fizz would. In other words just by its moniker you can't tell its main ingredients. Originally conceived as a kir, which is made with white wine rather than champagne, the drink was named after Canon Kir, a mayor of Dijon, France (where crème de cassis is processed, along with the more famous mustard product). I've actually had bartenders ask me how one is made. I've actually forgotten, at times, how one is made.

Then, of course, you can't command a champagne brand the way you can vodka in a mixed drink. You'd never request a kir royale with Moët & Chandon, for example, though you'd readily identify the Grey Goose for your martini. And if you failed to designate, certainly you'd expect a bartender to ask which liquor you'd prefer. With champagne, there's no top shelf -- and sometimes, not even a bottom shelf. Take whatever split you can get and hope for the Korbel, which, at least when it comes to kir royales, is better than hard cider.

Nor can you expect a decent kir royale everywhere you go. Despite its simplicity, truly balanced champagne cocktails seem to escape this city's bartenders as easily as good manners. Too little crème de cassis and you have a glass of (probably) cheap effervescence. Too much and you have a flute of liqueur that tastes like raisins. Cue one up at Caviarteria and you'll see what I mean.

Which comprises all the reasons why the times I order a kir royale is when I've recently seen someone else palm one, and I'm reminded. I have noticed, too, that there's a chain reaction whenever the original thinker decides a kir royale is it, the drink of the evening. I watched this happen recently at Norman's, where the bartender makes the best kir royales in town. Suddenly every woman at the bar, even if she had never had it before, was sipping one, and royally enjoying the ting on her palate. The craving for a kir royale, apparently, is as communicable as PMS.

So yes, the cosmo is dead. Mourn if you must. Hold a wake. Throw one in somebody's face (maybe one of those snotty bartenders who thinks you're from Alabama). And then move on. If I can do it, so can you.

 
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