Dig If You Will These Prince-Inspired Cocktails
April showers bring Purple Rainy Day drinks
“I heard a voice on the news saying
People want to stop the war
If they had a love as sweet as you
They'd forget what they were fighting for” —“Call My Name”, 2004
“If we cannot make babies, maybe we can make some time.” —“Erotic City”, 1984
“If you didn’t come to party, don’t bother knockin’ on my door.” —“1999”, recorded 1982
Has anyone ever counted how many Prince songs start with a howl? No instruments are playing yet. A few silent beats, and then a “Yeeeoowwwwwwwww!” before the music kicks in. The next few minutes are going to be a good time.
Prince Rogers Nelson (like Madonna, the singular “Prince” is his real given first name) was born in Minneapolis, MN in 1958. In the same realm of talent as Mozart or Bach, he was a bonafide child virtuoso with a massive vocal range, who wrote his first song, a ditty called “Funk Machine” on the piano at age 7. It was the early ‘60s when “funk” in the “get down” sense still wasn’t even a household word. He released his debut album, For You, at the age of 17 (he played all 27 instruments on the record himself) and his follow up, the seminal masterpiece Prince, released only a year later in 1979, went platinum. By age 18, when most of us can still barely be motivated to move off a sofa, Prince had pioneered what became known as the Minneapolis Sound, making one of the country’s coldest, windiest places in wintertime sound like a year round tropical hotbed of funky, jangly, layered, percussive, sexually-charged rock, with the club First Avenue at its core.
The late ‘70s brought Prince into cult status and got the attention of the music media, but the early 80s propelled him into worldwide mainstream superstardom, all while breaking all sorts of racial, gender identity and sexual barriers. He was truly one of the hardest working people in show business, with three side projects over which he had complete creative authority—The Time, Vanity 6 and The Family—in addition to his own band, The Revolution. The book Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl chronicles the painstaking process Prince went through to record and perform music, which often left little time for sleep or anything outside of his creative work. The side projects mostly dissolved by the late ‘80s, but his fame kept growing as his own records became more conceptualized and no less meticulous to record. Music videos on heavy MTV rotation coupled with the films Purple Rain (1984) and Under the Cherry Moon (1986), though mostly critically panned, further widened his audience with seemingly endless play on cable TV, not to mention VHS rentals.
“Women not girls, they rule my world” —”Kiss”, 1990
There are many reasons to love Prince, but, considering how much control he demanded over his art, one of the things I most respected about him was his support of female talent. He surrounded himself with talented men in his band and side projects, but it was the women in his circle that were made to sizzle in the shiniest spotlights: his bandmates Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman (a.k.a. Wendy and Lisa), Vanity (a scantily clad Denise Katrina Matthews), Sheila E., Apollonia (Patricia Kotero), Cat Glover and the band 3rdeyegirl who were his final backing group. Artists like Chaka Khan, Sheena Easton, Stevie Nicks, Sinead O’Connor, Martika and the Bangles breathed Top 40 chart-reaching life into Prince-penned compositions like “Nothing Compares 2 U” (O’Connor), “I Feel For You” (Khan), “Manic Monday” (the Bangles), “Stand Back” (Nicks, inspired by “Little Red Corvette”) and it can be argued modern acts such as Janelle Monae are largely Princefluenced.
Prince’s style transformations through the decades, with those platform boots that made his 5’2” frame seem like he was tall enough to slam dunk from the ground to the top of the Empire State Building, were the ultimate mix tape of looks that defied any standards of ethnic or sexual identification—James Brown meets Jimi Hendrix meets James Dean meets Little Richard meets Eartha Kitt as Catwoman meets Shakespeare meets Zorro meets Bugsy Malone meets Pam Grier sprinkled with some prime Liz Taylor and a dash of Kabuki. Even at his most lyrically explicit, it was about being sexy from every angle (especially in tight paisley pants):
“I want to be your brother
I want to be your mother and your sister, too
There ain't no other
That can do the things that I'll do to you” —from “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, 1979
In the song, he ultimately circles back to: “I want to be the only one you’ll come running to.” It seemed, no matter what, he just wanted people to feel pleasure (if coming across as a bit greedy): “If I was your girlfriend, would you remember / To tell me all the things you forgot when I was your man?” he purrs in 1987’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend” from Sign O’ the Times. Then there’s 1985’s “Tamborine” which is clearly about self-pleasure, although there is no gender assigned to the, uh, object of affection: “Are you good, are you bad / Are you just unnecessary means?... Guess that I'll stay at home / All alone and play my tambourine.” (Here’s a great essay about that tune written by my friend Chad Clark for DC’s City Paper .)
Signs o’ the Times
While often mischievously erotic, he had his dead serious moments, particularly during the early 1990s when he was trying to break free of a contract with Warner Bros. that inspired him to temporarily change his name to an unpronounceable symbol the media navigated by referring to him as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.” When the contract finally ended, he released 1996’s triple disc Emancipation which, though sprinkled with his usual playfulness, also contained personally reflective, dark songs like “Slave” which tells the story of “everyone trying to break my heart.” But even earlier in his career, tracks like 1985’s “America” speak about working immigrant kids living in figurative cages decades before the association became a literal one in this country.
He struck notes of good, clean joy in his songwriting too. I keep returning to “Alphabet St.” from 1988’s Lovesexy when I need a pick-me-up. Listen to that effervescent guitar riff and the choruses punctuated with that signature howl, and the lyric: "Put the right letters together and make a better day."
If only it were that simple.
On April 21st, 2016, at the age of 57, Prince died at his Paisley Park estate in MN of what would later be diagnosed as an accidental overdose of fentanyl, an opioid that he was said to be using to treat chronic pain. He had recently returned from a gig in Atlanta. Most fans had no idea he suffered from a pill addiction that had been going on for decades, which apparently started as treatment for the rigors of regular performing. It was a massive shock, particularly since he never stopped being artistically present. Soon after his death, the Seattle based radio station KEXP devoted a day of programming to Prince, and during that marathon, his producer, Chuck Zwicky, said on air of his sudden, tragic passing: “He was so young and had so much more to say.”
I could say more too, but to quote the 2015 song “Stare”: “Second things first / We know you got thirst.” With his often grueling schedule, Prince would have had little time or inclination to imbibe, but bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts around the world (it took more than a day) have graciously lent their own artistry and point of view to pay tribute Prince in all his manifestations in a way I hope would at least have brought a side-eyed chuckle from the man. Think of it as mixology for musicology.
“Let’s get this party poppin’!”
That Ain’t Lake Minnetonka
P.S. Steak, Minneapolis, MN
“The cocktail looks like a lake you wouldn’t want to jump into,” says Jeff Rogers, Beverage Director of Jester Concepts. The drink is, of course, inspired by the famous scene in the film Purple Rain, starring the daring (and baring) Apollonia, though Rogers assures the drink itself is a “pure delight” worthy of diving into. He explains, “Prince is put on a pedestal here in MN, not that he wasn’t everywhere else, but here he is one of us.”
2 oz Gamle Ode Dill Aquavit (Minnesota’s own!)
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz honey syrup (1:1 made with honey)
3 dashes Bay Leaf Bitters
2 dashes saline solution
Shake all ingredients with ice. Double strain into a sour or coupe glass.
Says Teague: “This drink features a pocket full of (93) horses from the Blanton’s Bourbon. Spicy and tart Hibiscus Ginger Syrup revs the engine while acidity and body like you’ve never seen are formed by the juices. The whole thing definitely has enough gas with the addition of a Mezcal spray. Of course it’s served in a coupe, the classic body style of the Corvette.”
1.5 oz Blanton’s Bourbon
5 oz Hibiscus Ginger syrup (recipe follows)
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.25 oz fresh pineapple juice
Add first 4 ingredients to a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and shake to chill, aerate and dilute. Double strain into a chilled coupe glass. Using an atomizer, spray Mezcal over the top of the drink.
Hibiscus Ginger Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup dried hibiscus flowers
one inch knob of ginger, sliced thin
zest from one medium lemon
Combine in a small pot and bring to a low simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool naturally. Strain through fine mesh and discard solids.
Love ‘Em and Keep ‘Em (inspired by “Little Red Corvette”)
Brian Petro, Cleveland, OH
The song encourages the object of affection, who is going “much too fast”, to slow down and take time with love. Petro learned that though Prince rarely imbibed, he did enjoy a good red wine. So using a big, juicy red wine in the drink seemed like an obvious choice. Says Petro: “Using a house made simple syrup and giving the whole thing a bourbon backbone, this big juicy sipper is not something you are going to want to go too fast.”
1.5 oz bourbon (wheated preferred, such as Maker’s Mark )
1 oz Raspberry Plum Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
.5 oz lemon juice
1.5 oz cranberry juice
1.5 oz red wine, something big and juicy
Garnish: skewer of raspberries
Pour all of the ingredients except the wine into a mixing tin over ice. Shake hard for 20 – 30 seconds. Double strain into a clean wine glass, and add wine. Stir gently, garnish and serve.
Raspberry Plum Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
.25 oz orange blossom water
1 cup raspberries
10 oz plums, sliced into cubes
Heat the water and the sugar until it is dissolved, but do not let it boil. Add the orange blossom water and fruit, then allow it to simmer until the fruit is soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Strain out the fruit and pour the liquid into a mason jar. Lasts for up to one week.
Corpse Reviver #U (Underneath the Purple Rain)
Geoff Smith, On20, Hartford, CT
For those who view this as something new (that means you too), the Corpse Reviver family of cocktails is not meant to wake the dead (or cause sorrow), but revive the spirit.
1.5 oz Empress 1908 Gin (which attributes its stunning, naturally-occurring, purple hue to butterfly pea blossom among its botanicals)
1 oz Rinomato Rosso
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.5 oz Blue Curaçao
2 dashes Regan’s Orange bitters
Garnish: “Tangerine” twist, optional
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into rocks glass with fresh ice (directionally frozen Prince photo optional), garnish if desired.
Shark by Bobby Flay, Las Vegas, NV
1.5 oz of homemade Chicha Morada (recipe follows)
1 oz lime juice
.5 oz Ancho Reyes
1.5 tequila blanco
Garnish: lime wheel
Add all ingredients to a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish.
Shark’s Chicha Morada
1 cup Maíz morado (purple corn, sold in specialty stores and online)
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
5 star anise
1 small green apple, quartered
4 3-inch strips of orange peel
Combine 5 cups water, maíz morado, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, star anise, apple and orange peel in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let cool to room temperature. Remove the maíz and apple and transfer into a container with a lid. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 1 week.
John Warren, The Bonnie, Astoria, NY
"I chose ‘Delirious’ because of the way that you incorporate the cocktail,” says Warren. “It is meant to be stirred by the drinker before drinking. You have those two layers—sanity and insanity—and then the swirling of the cocktail gives you a feeling of delirium."
1.5 oz white rum
.5 oz honey syrup
.25 oz fresh lemon juice
.5 oz oz crème de violette
Garnish: lemon peel and blueberry
Add rum, honey syrup and lemon juice to a shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass. Float crème de violette over a bar spoon into the drink. Express lemon peel over the drink, then wrap around a blueberry and thread onto a skewer, for garnish. Use the skewer to swirl the cocktail before sipping.
Amanda Witt, New York City
This dark plum-colored coffee cocktail was originally served for Double Buzz at Amor y Amargo, and appears in the book New York Cocktails.
1 oz Amaro Sfumato
1 oz Cocchi Rosa
2 dashes lavender bitters (such as Scrappy’s)
4 oz undiluted iced or cold brew made with light or medium roast, naturally processed African coffee, very cold
Grapefruit peel to express
Add all ingredients to a glass (the coffee will do most of the dilution) and stir to combine and allow the coffee to do the chilling. Pour into a tall glass and express the grapefruit over the drink.
Chris Martino, Washington, DC
Everybody get on the beat as you shake this drink up!
.75 Dolin Rouge Vermouth
2 dashes Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters
Stir with ice until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe, garnish with a cocktail cherry and a lavender sprig.
Josh Powell, the Collaborative Bartender, London, UK
As in Prince’s native Midwest,“soda” is also referred to as “pop” in the UK. Powell updates the childlike connotation for a more adult palate.
50ml Ocho Blanco Tequila
25ml Watermelon and Tomato Shrub (recipe follows)
Fever Tree Lemonade to top
Add all ingredients to a tall glass over ice. No garnish.
Watermelon and Tomato Shrub
250g chopped watermelon
25g chopped tomatoes
250g of sugar
40ml organic apple cider vinegar
Add all ingredients to a jar with a tight-sealing lid, stirring occasionally, for 4 days. Strain out solids and bottle.
Cory Miller, Sweet Afton, Astoria, NY
"My inspiration to pair this drink with this classic Prince song is that it truly is a sexy m.f.-ing cocktail, both aesthetically and in taste,” says Miller. “Any Prince-themed drink should be vibrant, and the hibiscus and Aperol give this a nice, deep, pink hue. The sparkling wine lightens it up and its dry character cuts the sweetness of the hibiscus syrup and tartness of the lemon."
1 oz gin
.5 oz Aperol
.75 oz hibiscus-infused simple syrup (recipe follows)
.75 oz yuzu juice
3 oz sparkling wine
Combine gin, Aperol, simple syrup and yuzu juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled. Add sparkling wine. Strain into a chilled coupe.
Hibiscus Simple Syrup
Steep 1.5 oz dried hibiscus flowers in one quart of 1:1 simple syrup (freshly-made and still-hot) for no more than one hour. Strain and store, refrigerated, up to one week.
Anthony DeSerio, consultant, Diageo Reserve
.25 oz honey syrup (2:1)
4-5 drops Wild Hibiscus rose extract
dry sparkling rosé
Built in a flute. Top with sparkling rosé.
Ambrose Burke, Eastside, Minneapolis, MN
This drink from Prince’s home town is in homage to “When Doves Cry.”
2 oz dry gin
.25 oz. Carpano Dry vermouth
bar spoon R&W Crème de Violette
Garnish: lemon peel cut into teardrop shape
Stir all ingredients until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled Nick and Nora glass. Express peel over glass and perch on rim.
Slowly Like a Mack Truck (inspired by “Kiss”)
Nate Dobson, NYC
Says Dobson: “Prince had a way of making folx feel that sex, poise and androgyny was effortless, for everyone. No (super) fancy bottles. No fancy syrups. I wanted something crunchy yet sweet. Approachable, but could [eventually] lay you flat on your face.”
.75 oz lemon juice
.25 oz simple syrup 1:1
.50 oz Giffard Pamplemousse Liqueur
1 oz Wild Turkey 101 Rye
1 oz Mezcal Vida
Garnish: 2 skewered raspberries
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into chilled glass. Garnish
Chanel Liquori, Atom Brands, New York City
This is the final nightcap before the day breaks.
1 oz That Boutique-y Whisky Company Auchentoshan 10 Year Batch 7
.5 oz Regal Rogue Rose Vermouth
.5 oz fresh lime juice
Sparkling wine to top
Garnish: cucumber sliced thin, salt and pepper
Shake whisky, vermouth and lime with ice until chilled. Strain into coupe. Top with absinthe and sparkling wine. Garnish.
Pete Vasconcellos, Tom Reid, Matthew Tellier and Josh Radford, The Penrose, NYC
"This cocktail is a collaboration for The Penrose's spring 2019 menu ,” says Vasconellos, who says it’s a reworking of a bar classic called Zaddy Issues. “In the song, the woman is found alone at the bar. Prince asks for a dance and she replies that 'all she wanted was a good man, and wanted to know if I thought I was qualified.' But we like to think this drink is more than just a one night stand.”
1 oz Empress 1908 Gin for earthy flavor and color
.5 oz Giffard Pamplemousse Liqueur
.5 oz Vermouth Del Professore
.5 oz fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
Lemon twist, for garnish
Rinse a chilled Nick & Nora glass with absinthe to coat and set aside. Combine ingredients in a shaker and dry shake (no ice) to combine, then add ice and shake well. Strain into the glass. Garnish.
Frank Caiafa, from The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book
Caifa prepared this drink at the Peacock Alley bar with a homemade spiced rum infusion. That recipe is in the book (which I highly recommend picking up!). A simplified version is made here with spiced rum.
.25 oz fresh lemon juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Garnish: mint sprig
Add all ingredients to mixing glass. Add ice and shake well. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the mint.
Christopher Tracy’s Parade
Frederic Yarm, Boston, MA
This summery drink is inspired by Prince’s character in the 1986 movie Under the Cherry Moon and the lyrics to the song on the soundtrack:
“Everyone come behold Christopher Tracy's Parade
The show will proceed, unless it should rain strawberry lemonade
Hopefully, that will not occur, the man above has been paid
Give what you can, all you can stand, and all of your life will be made”
2 oz London Dry Gin
1 oz lemon juice
.5 oz orgeat
.5 oz honey syrup (1:1)
2 oz cold water
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
1 large (or 2 medium) strawberries
Muddle the strawberry in the orgeat and honey syrup, add the rest of the ingredients, shake with ice, and double strain into a Collins glass. Fill with ice and garnish with a lemon wheel.
Danielle Mitchell, The Spaniard, NYC
Mitchell says, "The song is about being a hidden star: ‘Might not know it now but baby, I are, I’m a star'. It's a creamy, juicy egg white drink that sounds sweet and fruity, but the mezcal and chartreuse together will have you dancing like a star in no time."
Five chunks fresh pineapple
2 oz mezcal (Mitchell suggests Vida)
.5 oz fresh lime juice
.5 oz pineapple juice
.5 oz simple syrup
.5 egg white
Yellow Chartreuse rinse
Garnish: pinch of salt and strawberry slice
Rinse a chilled coupe glass with yellow chartreuse to coat and set aside. Combine ingredients in a shaker and dry shake (no ice) to combine, then add ice and shake well. Strain into the coupe glass. Garnish.
Singles and Deep Cuts
It Only Snows in April - Seattle-based bartender Abigail Gullo suggests a Banana Daiquiri variation. Shake one up then watch this incredible acoustic live version recorded at Webster Hall in 2004. Of course you could also make this on another lonely Christmas.
Screwdriver - mix vodka and orange juice, but don’t drink it - throw the glass so it shatters
Something In the Water (Does Not Compute) - a shot of spirit of choice, then attempt to write binary code