Every spring, New Yorkers congregate to debate the upcoming season’s most pressing questions: Where is everyone going on vacation? (France? Maine?) Where is everyone going for dinner? (Place des Fêtes.) What will be the song of the summer? (“Running Up That Hill,” which seems to have surprised even the person who wrote it.) And, most pressing, what will become the drink of the summer?
Often there is an obvious answer because, for a stretch of several years, the answer was always an Aperol spritz. Last summer, it was the espresso martini. This summer it’s … what? No one is quite sure — a conundrum that grows more troubling as Labor Day inches ever closer.
“People were really pushing Lambrusco last summer, and I haven’t experienced anything comparable to that,” says the writer Krithika Varagur. “The only new thing I drank this summer was Miller High Life with Campari in it, and that was totally made up by my friend Elena.”
Perhaps people’s priorities have changed, Varagur suggests, after the summer of 2020 when quarantine was still a fresh memory: “Last summer was such a big summer. It was the ‘post-pandemic’ summer, and maybe there was some more appetite for a ‘drink of the summer’ and all this kind of novelty stuff.”
This year’s lack of a definitive warm-weather drink is all the more conspicuous given earlier attempts to identify one. In May, the New York Times declared, divisively, that the drink of the summer would be the Dirty Shirley, which is exactly what it sounds like. The claim was bold, but as the days passed, it had difficulty gaining real traction. Even still, the story’s author, Becky Hughes, will defend her thesis: “I think the story accelerated the trend to some degree, but it was 100 percent happening,” she says. “I definitely saw some conversation about how I ‘made up the trend,’ which simultaneously gives me credit I don’t deserve and undermines my reporting,” which, she notes, she stands by “completely.”
Did Hughes at least make it her own personal drink of the summer? Well, not exactly. “I drank a few while reporting the story,” she says but admits that, in the end, “the Dirty Shirley is not my go-to drink.”
Even within the ecosystem of the Times, it seems the topic remained up for debate, as just this month, T magazine declared the espresso martini, once again, the “drink of the summer” before later appearing to walk back that claim, changing the story’s main headline to the less controversial “Feeling Social but Tired? Try an Espresso Martini.” For its part, Bon Appétit didn’t even attempt to weigh in this year; it instead threw its hands in the air and simply instructed readers to drink “whatever you want.”
To try and find some real answers, I asked some people who sell cocktails for a living. “The drink of the summer at my bar has been rosé on ice!” Madalyn, a bartender who works in the Financial District, told me. She listed off several other drinks as well. “Midori sours, but I think I manifest that,” she offered before dropping a bomb: “A lot of NASCAR spritzes are happening in our life, too.” I’m sorry, a lot of what? “It’s Aperol and lemon in a Bud.”
I noticed the similarity to the High Life–Campari mixture Varagur had mentioned, but it seemed more like a coincidence than a real trend. (Also, it doesn’t sound bad!) Nobody, it seemed, had a firm answer. “I am so out of touch,” said another hospitality worker before sending me a photo of a restaurant’s chalkboard menu, which listed a frozen espresso martini as a special. “The final frontier,” she wrote. Shortly afterward, she left the city for Paris, possibly to escape my line of questioning.
Even New York’s drinkers seem unsure of how to approach the proverbial cocktail hour. Grub Street recently overheard a diner, sitting down at One White Street in Tribeca, ask her server, “Do you have any natural wine? If not, I’ll just have an extra-dirty martini.” We are all a bit lost at sea these days.
Does any of this really matter? The obvious answer is “Of course not, you idiot,” but the counterpoint is “Maybe that’s why it’s worth identifying a drink of the summer — because it’s something dumb to talk about!” I was out of town recently, visiting friends and family, and I was dispatched to the liquor store to pick up some supplies. There was wine. There was beer. There was Aperol. I never really got on the Aperol spritz bandwagon — but I wondered, what about this whole Aperol and Budweiser idea? With some lemon? That’s a combination I’d never had before. This so-called NASCAR spritz sounded ridiculous in all the right ways. Then and there, I finally felt connected to something bigger than myself.