Skip to main content

Bee’s Knees, French 75, and more: Fall for these 9 iconic Prohibition cocktails from the Roaring ’20s

The 1920s delivered some of the best cocktails to date. Here are some you can make at home

Americans celebrating the end of Prohibition
New York Times

While it’s fair to say we’re living in another golden age for cocktails, the original golden age happened a century ago. Thanks to Prohibition, the 1920s saw tons of innovative bartending, leading to some of the best recipes that any cocktail book has ever documented. In haunts all across the land, industry leaders found clever ways to circumvent the anti-booze system, drumming up some damn fine drinks in the process.

Yes, the Roaring ’20s certainly lived up to its name. From incredible fashion to some of the best gin cocktails of all time, it was a decade of style, sipping, and sticking it to the man. Bars had to be sneaky, and in doing so, they created not just an underground community but an entire industry of devotees working illicitly to show the world just how important cocktail culture is to modern society.

Here are nine top Prohibition cocktails worth falling for in 2024.

The French 75 placed on a bar counter
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The French 75

We at The Manual have written before about our love for the French 75 and its masterful blend of gin and Champagne. As it happens, this fizzy brunch hero became especially popular during the Prohibition era … albeit in Paris, where American expats, like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, could drink to their hearts’ content without any pesky government interference.

“The French 75 was a Roaring ’20s classic made with gin, champagne, and lemon. [It’s] what I might call a ‘bare bones’ cocktail, meaning [that] it’s a very simple cocktail with simple ingredients. So it’s important to use quality ingredients to really let it shine,” explained bartender Julian Flores of Bar Henry in Los Angeles.

Flores likes to adhere to a classic French 75 recipe when mixing this beverage, but he’s very particular about his base spirit and choice of bubbly: “Although [French 75s are] classically made with London dry gin, I like to use Amass Gin. Still a ‘dry’ gin, Amass has a softer and more floral palate that I think creates a more delicate and interesting cocktail. To help balance the softness of the gin, I use a Méthode Champenoise sparkling Vouvray. Specifically, Domain Pinon Brut de Brut. This sparkling wine has high acid that elevates the gin, [along with] a proper amount of breadiness that holds up to the citrus.”

The Gin Rickey on a plain background
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Gin Rickey

“The Gin Rickey was a really popular drink during Prohibition times, most likely due to its simplicity,” said bar manager Cari Hah of Big Bar in Los Angeles about her preferred gin-based 1920s cocktail, which traditionally consists of gin, lime juice, and soda water.

However, Hah likes to play around with the typical flavor notes of a Gin Rickey in order to achieve a more balanced profile, telling us that “I personally feel that the traditional recipe is a bit too tart, so the addition of Pomp & Whimsy gin liqueur actually gives the drink a natural sweetness while adding a complexity of flavor that a simple gin, lime & soda cannot match. It’s perfect!”

The Bee’s Knees placed on a counter with a shadow
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Bee’s Knees

Gin cocktails appeared at many a 1920s speakeasy, largely because gin was relatively easy for enterprising amateur distillers to make on their own. Their efforts yielded a product popularly known as “bathtub gin,” which quickly garnered notoriety for its potency and its astringent flavor. “Prohibition-era cocktails focused on covering up the usually poor-quality spirits they had available during Prohibition,” said head bartender Isabella Marriott of Bar Beau in Brooklyn, NY.

“The Bee’s Knees [included] the perfect balance of sweet and tart flavors to mask the overpowering flavors of the bootleg gin of the time,” Marriott offers as an endorsement of this classic ’20s libation made with gin, fresh lemon juice, and honey. She follows the time-honored recipe, but encourages Bee’s Knees dabblers to “use local wildflower honey, and a higher-quality gin.” Her gin pick for this cocktail? “Barr Hill gin, or any quality dry gin with nice floral notes.”

Two Southsides with iced cubes and lime
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Southside

Another 1920s cocktail favorite using gin as its focal point, the Southside “takes the three-ingredient easiness of a gimlet and dials it up a notch with mint muddled in the shaker and a dash of orange cocktail bitters,” explained cocktail director Lee Noble of Art in the Age in Philadelphia, referring to The Southside’s formula of gin, lime juice, simple syrup, orange bitters, and muddled mint.

The Southside sounds a bit like a gin spin on a mojito, but it has a mythology all its own, according to Noble: “[The Southside is] rumored to have been named after the neighborhood in Chicago where Al Capone ran his racket. Since he was the most infamous bootlegger during Prohibition, it follows that we keep an homage to him on [any ’20s-inspired] menu.”

The Singapore Sling on a night out
Godong Photo / Adobe Stock

The Singapore Sling

The Singapore Sling may owe its heritage to the cocktail movements of the 1910s and 1920s, but this drink, which involves gin, Grand Marnier, cherry liqueur, herbal liqueur, and pineapple juice, experienced a major resurgence in the 1980s. However, these new interpretations of the traditional Sling — which tended to go heavy on alternate ingredients like grenadine — didn’t present the cocktail in the best possible light, as beverage director Jason Stevens of La Corsha Hospitality in Austin laments: “The Singapore Sling, an incredible proto-Tiki/pre-Prohibition classic, has been so maligned over the years that it’s hard to think of it as anything other than an overly sweet, artificial disco drink (not that I don’t love some disco).”

That said, Stevens still thinks that there’s ample opportunity for today’s beverage enthusiasts to enjoy and appreciate Singapore Slings in the spirit for which they were intended. “When [a Singapore Sling is] made with a little love and care, it’s dressed up right and it feels respectable — as if [you’re sending] ingredients like gin and herbal liqueur on an island vacation,” Stevens insisted.

The Hanky-Panky on a table
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Hanky-Panky

A take on the martini invented at the turn of the 20th century but popularized during Prohibition, the Hanky-Panky was devised by Ada Coleman, the first female lead bartender at the famous American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London. In terms of ingredients and prep, the Hanky-Panky shines in its simplicity — it contains only London dry gin, sweet vermouth, and Fernet-Branca amaro.

Nevertheless, a skilled hand — like that of bar director Liam Baer of Pretty Dirty in Los Angeles — can introduce additional ingredients and flavors to the Hanky-Panky without overburdening the cocktail and while showing the utmost respect for its original recipe. “As the intention at Pretty Dirty is to offer something exclusive in regards to our classics, we substitute gin for genever and use house blends of vermouths, Fernets, and sherry,” Baer said of his own Hanky-Panky rendition.

The Sidecar presented on a counter
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Sidecar

“A Prohibition-era cocktail that I love seeing out and on a cocktail menu is a well-made Sidecar. Coming to us from Harry’s New York Bar in Paris during the 1920s, this marriage of brandy, orange liqueur, and lemon juice is simple and yet allows for so much variation depending on ingredient selection. Whether made with a robust American brandy or a more delicate cognac and paired with a bright triple sec or a more tart and complex curaçao, a Sidecar is always a delight and is a wonderful way to measure the development of your bartending technique and your palate,” bar specialist Cameron Shaw of Lot 15 in NYC told The Manual. The traditional Sidecar recipe typically includes Cognac, but Shaw urges home bartenders to select whichever aged brandy they prefer.

The Bamboo with a twist on a counter
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Bamboo

Today’s prestige bartenders take great inspiration from the cocktails of the ’20s for many reasons, but these vintage sippers’ use of only a handful of ingredients to create unique flavor blends counts among the most significant. While fruit juices exerted major influence over these cocktails, spirits like sherry and vermouth delivered nuance and depth to beverages like The Bamboo, a sherry-based beverage beloved by spirits director Jordan Smith of HALL by ODO in NYC.

Smith’s fondness for The Bamboo — made with sherry, vermouth, and orange bitters — is anchored in history:

“In the early 1880s in New York, a stirred drink comprised of just two ingredients (alright, sometimes three, depending on who you asked) was sweeping across bars downtown. By the next decade, its popularity had taken it as far as the West Coast and into Japan; just before the dreaded year of 1920, it was approaching ubiquity. While it sounds uncannily like the trajectory of the Old-Fashioned, I’m actually referring to The Bamboo — that surprisingly complex blend of equal parts (traditionally) sherry and dry (traditionally) vermouth.

I first encountered the recipe in a hard-loved copy of The Ideal Bartender by Tom Bullock, a 1917 compendium of recipes from one of the few heralded African-American bartenders of the time. I’d found the copy in a used bookstore just off campus, a few blocks from the apartment I’d just moved into, intent on stretching my collegiate independence to the logical extreme of living alone — a process which invariably involved making oneself a drink. Today, with the nearly endless variety of sherries and vermouths available, there’s perhaps no better time to experience the surprisingly revelatory drink The Bamboo can be.”

Smith plays around with the classic Bamboo recipe by using both dry and sweet vermouths and adding a couple of lemon twists to boost the citrus aromas of the orange bitters.

The Mary Pickford with candles and a book on a background
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Mary Pickford

Named for a film actress widely considered the premier ingenue of the 1910s and 1920s, the Mary Pickford mixes white rum with maraschino liqueur, pineapple juice, and grenadine, resulting in a sweet, fruit-forward, chilled libation. “If it was up to me, I’d [like to see] the Mary Pickford cocktail make a comeback. With white rum and tropical juices, it’s the perfect summer cocktail and a 1920s classic that is included in the International Bartenders Association cocktail book. Rumor has it, the cocktail was made by a hotel bartender for actress Mary Pickford when she was in Cuba with Charlie Chapman,” beverage director Miki Nikolic of Double Dealer in New Orleans said in support of this classic warm-weather fave.

Old Fashioned
Paige Ledford / Unsplash

More Prohibition-era cocktails

Still interested in popular cocktails of the Prohibition era? Here are a handful more you can make at home. A few of these may surprise you that they are Roaring ’20s drinks.

  • The Old Fashioned: A bourbon drink made with sugar, bitters, and water.
  • The Mojito: A rum cocktail made with mint, lime juice, sugar, and soda water.
  • The Last Word: A gin drink made with green chartreuse (a herbal French liqueur), maraschino (liqueur cherry-flavored liqueur), and lime juice.
  • The Highball: The original cocktail is whiskey and club soda, but it’s a base spirit and a larger proportion of a non-alcoholic mixer, often carbonated. Today, this could be a whiskey highball, vodka soda, gin and tonic, screwdriver, or rum and Coke.
  • The White Lady: A gin drink made with orange liqueur and lemon juice and shaken with an egg white.

If you want to experiment in your home bar, check out these 20 cocktail recipes you can make at home.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
How to grill spicy Turkish Adana kebabs (and more tips)
Haven't tried Turkish kebabs yet? You're missing out — here's what to know
Turkish Adana kebab plate with grilled vegetables

In the Middle East, there are countless varieties of grilled and skewered meats. Many of these kebabs are made with ground meat, ranging from the parsley-rich kofta kebab of Lebanon to the soft and savory koobideh kebab of Iran. One of the most famous of these styles is the Adana kebab, a spicy Turkish lamb mince fragrant with chili peppers. Is your mouth watering yet? Keep reading to learn more about Adana kebabs.
What is the Adana kebab?

The Adana kebab originated from the southern Turkish city of Adana. A proper Adana kebab is serious business in Turkey — the dish is officially a protected designation of origin (PDO). Essentially, this means that a true Adana kebab can only be made in the city of Adana and only by someone who has cleared a series of rules.

Read more
How to make a perfect milkshake at home every time
Summer is almost here, so it's time hone your milkshake skills
Chocolate milkshake and whipped cream on a table

As the summer months are just around the corner, we're always looking for ways to cool off. It may be hard to believe, but sometimes, we aren't in the mood for a cold beer or cocktail. A smoothie could be a great way to cool off, but sometimes, we want something a little more decadent.

Cue the milkshake. This sweet treat has the deliciousness of ice cream, but you don't have to worry about it running off the cone and down your arm on a hot day. Also, the flavor combinations are limitless. You can go with a classic vanilla or strawberry milkshake, or you can blend in your favorite cookies, candies, and fruits. Also, since we're big boys, who's to stop us from adding a little peppermint schnapps to the blend to make a delicious boozy milkshake?

Read more
This is our new favorite cold brew concentrate for nightcaps and coffee cocktails
Try this cold brew concentrate in everything from desserts to cocktails
People enjoying coffee cocktails.

Some people can have a cup of coffee at 9 p.m. and go right to sleep. The rest of us need to stop drinking caffeine by noon to even try to get to bed at a decent time. But if an end-of-the-day nightcap has you craving something with a coffee flavor, how can you make sure you won't be up all night? The crew at The Manual sampled Explorer's Cold Brew Concentrate — sans caffeine — and wants you to try it shaken, not stirred, in your next espresso martini.
The cold, concentrated truth

Before you make your first creation, know Explorer Cold Brew cares about offsetting emissions, the environmental impact of the whole process, and sourcing organic, fair-trade beans. The company also gives back, with every gourmet purchase leading to a donation to Charity:Water, which brings clean drinking water to areas without it. Every sip of your coffee-themed drink using Explorer Cold Brew is important — remember that.
Pick your caffeine level
Yes, there is a 99.9% caffeine-free option for those late-night drinks to help you unwind. But if you wanted your martini to give you an extra pick-me-up before your night out, choose one of the caffeinated options.
Find your flavor
For the cost of one cup of coffee from Starbucks, you can add a flavor to your cold brew. You could never go wrong with vanilla, but the choice of sea salt caramel is there if you feel adventurous.
Make it an elite elixir
A coffee cocktail will ease you into bed if you add an elixir. The Dreamer is perfect for sleepy time, and The Optimist is there to help you unwind.
A little goes a long way
Remember, this is cold brew concentrate. Don't give the $45 price any side eye. One 32oz bottle will make 20 cups of coffee, making the price per cup around $2.25. Do you know the last time you had cold brew that cheap? Don't lie.
Decaf doesn't have to mean disappointing

Read more