The Stories Behind 7 Drinks Named After Real People
By Lisa Morrow
It's easy to figure out how plenty of cocktails got their names—some just go by their ingredients, like a gin and tonic, while others, like a Manhattan, reflect where the drink was popularized. Then there are those named after actual people, famous or otherwise. Though some can be traced back to a single individual, others have murkier origins that make these backstories all the more fascinating (and, sometimes, fictional). Here are the stories behind seven drinks named after real people.
The Bellini was named for Giovanni Bellini, the famed Renaissance painter, who was responsible for works like The Agony in the Garden and Blood of the Redeemer. But he didn’t invent the signature summer drink, nor was he alive when it was conceived—the cocktail was the brainchild of a man named Giuseppe Cipriani.
Cipriani founded Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy, and sometime in the 1930s or 1940s, he decided to add white peach purée to prosecco. Comparing the pinkish color of this new drink to the hue featured in some of Bellini’s most famous paintings, he named his humble cocktail in honor of the master.
2. Dom Pérignon
It’s often said that Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon (Pierre to his friends) was solely responsible for creating the champagne method for making sparkling wines, but that’s just one of the many myths surrounding the drink. He was integral in improving the production process, however, and one of his real accomplishments as cellar master at an abbey in France includes successfully blending grapes to overcome imperfections in wine quality. It’s thought that the overblown legend of Dom Pérignon was largely due to the claims made by Dom Grossard, the last treasurer of Pérignon’s abbey, in the years following the French Revolution.
Many bartenders argue mixology is a science, and in the case of the Dubonnet, a French aperitif, they’d be right. It's said that chemist Joseph Dubonnet was looking for a palatable way to deliver doses of quinine (found in the cinchona tree) to French Foreign Legionnaires in North Africa in order to fight malaria. But writing in the book Just the Tonic, authors Kim Walker and Mark Nesbitt speculate that it’s more likely that he was simply in search for a medicinal tonic in general, not specifically anti-malarial. Either way, in 1846 he came up with the perfect concoction: a blend of fortified wine, herbs, spices, and just the right amount of quinine.
Dubonnet is still around today, and it's said to be a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II. If you want to drink like a royal, combine 2 ounces of Dubonnet with an ounce of gin, add ice and a slice of lemon, and stir until it's chilled.
4. The Charlie Chaplin
It seems unlikely that New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel would have named a drink after someone referred to as “The Tramp,” but for Charlie Chaplin, the great comic actor and filmmaker, they made an exception. This pre-Prohibition creation consists of equal parts Sloe gin, lime juice, and apricot liqueur, though sometimes lemon juice is used.
The Charlie Chaplin gets its alluring ruby red color from the Sloe gin, made by steeping ripe sloe berries, similar to plums, with sugar and ordinary gin. The combination of the Sloe gin and apricot brandy makes for a smooth, if somewhat sweet, tipple. There's no record of whether or not Chaplin was a fan of the beverage that bore his name.
5. The Arnold Palmer
In a career spanning more than six decades, famous American golfer Arnold Palmer won 62 PGA Tour titles. He recalled to ESPN that his wife made lots of iced tea, and he asked her to make a large pitcher so that he could add some lemonade. After getting his proportions right, he found it so delightful that he took it with him while playing. Eventually, he was in Palm Springs building a golf course on a hot summer day. At lunch, he asked the waitress for an iced tea with about a quarter lemonade. When the waitress went to a nearby table, the customer asked for an “Arnold Palmer” and then clarified “what he ordered.”
Today, the Arizona Beverage Company puts out a line of officially licensed Arnold Palmers in a variety of flavors, including green tea and diet versions. In recent years, Hornell Brewing (Arizona's parent company) teamed up with Molson Coors to produce an alcoholic take on the warm-weather favorite called Arnold Palmer Spiked.
Everyone knows margaritas contain tequila, triple sec, and lime, but how the drink got its name is up for debate. One story has it that a Mexican restaurant owner created it in 1947 or '48 as a palatable cocktail for a stunning former Ziegfeld showgirl named Marjorie King, who was allergic to all liquors other than tequila. Or you could believe the version that puts Texan socialite Margaret Sames as the brains behind the drink. There are even versions floating around that claim the drink was named after actress Rita Hayworth (first name Margarita), who was rumored to have drunk one when performing in Tijuana in the 1930s; there's a similar tale out there involving singer Peggy (a diminutive of Margaret) Lee after she supposedly tried it in Galveston.
Despite the similarities of the women’s names to that of the drink, one of the most accepted theories lies with a cocktail known as the Daisy that was popular in the early 20th century. These drinks were made from citrus and grenadine mixed with alcohol, including gin, whiskey, and even brandy. At some point, the tequila daisy became the margarita, the Spanish word for daisy, which means the drink probably wasn't actually named after anyone in particular, despite the legends.
7. Bloody Mary
It's said that the Bloody Mary—which consists of vodka, tomato juice, and more—was put together by a French barman named Fernand Petiot who worked at Harry's New York Bar in Paris in the early 1920s. When Vincent Astor, the owner of the St. Regis hotel, brought Petiot to New York in 1933, the name was deemed too crude for the American public and was changed to the more socially acceptable Red Snapper. According to some, vodka wasn’t available in the U.S. at the time, so the drink was made with gin.
It’s unclear when it was mixed with vodka again (though references to the Bloody Mary as a vodka-based drink start appearing in the late 1930s), or just why it finally became known as a Bloody Mary in the United States. Some attribute the name to Queen Mary I of England—but a 1966 interview with Petiot claims that an American entertainer named Roy Barton originally suggested it because “it reminded him of the Bucket of Blood, a club he once worked in Chicago.” Six years later, someone claiming to be Petiot’s stepson said that it had reminded Barton of Bucket of Blood and “he had a girl named Mary.” Combine the two, and voilà.
But that’s not the end of the story. In 1964, Petiot said, “I initiated the Bloody Mary of today ... George Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over.” Jessel was a popular entertainer decades earlier, and in his autobiography, he said he needed to sober up for an appointment one day in 1927 after spending an entire night—and much of the morning—drinking. He recalled his future sister-in-law used to use a tomato drink to sober up, so Jessel grabbed some tomato juice, along with some vodka (hair of the dog, after all), and then threw in Worcestershire sauce and lemon to mask the liquor's smell. When Mary Brown Warburton—granddaughter of department store pioneer John Wanamaker—showed up in a white evening gown, Jessel let her try his creation. She spilled some on her dress and remarked “Now, you can call me Bloody Mary, George!”
Drink historians continue to debate who was the originator.