THE TERM “Long Island Iced Tea” evokes images of a cool, tangy, perhaps tart, maybe even fizzy libation, something to be sipped in a salt-tinged breeze wafting across the deck of a sailboat on a balmy summer night. But no. “Long Island Iced Tea” is not so much a drink as a euphemism, a cheeky moniker given to an act of mixological atrocity favored by college students and wastrels.
There is no set “recipe” for a Long Island, only a method: You know those bottles of cheap alcohol you have at the bottom of your bar? That $8 handle of vodka you bought for spiking that watermelon last summer? That rotgut rum from your pirate-themed birthday? That tequila your pathologically frugal brother-in-law brought over that you’ve been using to deodorize your shoes? That weird gin you got for Christmas that smells like pine needles? Pull ’em all out.
You’ll need a half-ounce of each, all partying together in the bottom of your mixer. And then, to make it “palatable,” you’ll want to add some of that leftover sour mix you thought you’d never use but felt bad throwing away. To make it look like iced tea, throw in a splash of cola (off-brand is fine); no one will be quibbling about the tasting notes at this point.
Mix. Pour over ice. Drink.
And then, all too often: Purge.
Most modern mixological cocktails rely on a single base spirit — rum, vodka, gin, etc. — but the Long Island Iced Tea (LIIT, if you like) jumbles them all together like a bunch of awkward suburbanites at a key party, the combination both volatile and unlikely to result in an enjoyable evening.
It is therefore appropriate that the drink is generally thought to have been invented in the oh-so-grimy 1970s by a Long Island bartender named Robert Butt (truly). But, like most cocktails, there is an alternate origin story, and it is often claimed that the drink’s beginnings are in a similarly orgiastic libation called “Old Man Bishop” from the 1920s, when alcohol was whatever came out of the bathtub, and standards were low.
Normally, if you order a Long Island Iced Tea at a bar, your bartender will instantly think less of you. But it is theoretically possible to have a “high-end” Long Island Iced Tea, one crafted from liquors that live on higher shelves behind the bar, and you can find such gussied-up chimeras tucked into the folds of some of the city’s summer cocktail menus.
The Nest, the Thompson Hotel’s Instagram-licious rooftop bar, has a legitimately tasty version on its summer menu called the “Lit 101” (a pun evoking college, where the LIIT belongs). It involves Ketel One vodka, Damrak gin, Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca (a banana-flavored rum-like liquor from Brazil) and good old Cointreau, and replaces all that sour mix-and-cola business with housemade digestifs.
No amount of high-end spirits will make those cutout shoulder tops and overgrown highlights any better, but at least you have a fighting chance of not spending the evening with your head in a toilet.