Cheers To The Cosmopolitan: The History Of The Cocktail Made Famous By 'Sex And The City'

Carrie Bradshaw approved…

The Cosmopolitan cocktail starred in Sex and the City (1999’s Season 2, Episode 2, “The Awful Truth”) and ricocheted around the world on our TV sets as the must-have drink. But according to Once Upon a Cocktail’s co-author Sarah L.M. Mengoni “the commonly accepted identity of the creator of this drink has changed over the past 15 years, and as a seeker of historical truths, I like to understand why.”

The “Cosmopolitan” was a popular drink in San Francisco by the early 1980s. It wasn’t the Cosmo we drink today—it was close, but probably too sweet and not great judging by the ingredients, which were vodka, grenadine, and Rose’s lime. Apparently, it had the same appearance that it does today, so it looked good, but it was all cover and no content. So, who changed it to its current dry iteration, which when made well, IS a good cocktail?

The popular story of the moment is that bartender Toby Cecchini, of the Odeon Bar in NYC, was the man for that job. The year was 1988 when he switched Rose’s lime cordial for fresh lime juice, grenadine for cranberry juice, added Cointreau for complexity, and used Absolut Citron, which was brand new to the market. From there women made it famous. Madonna and Sandra Bernhard would drink it at Toby’s bar and at the iconic New York’s Rainbow Room. Then of course came Sex and the City, and it was over. The drink was superglued into international fame.

As the Sex and the City episode title suggests “The Awful Truth” was that indeed the story sounds very legit, and it seems to be the current gospel truth of the birth of the Cosmo. The question mark for Sarah is that up until just a few years ago, the commonly told origin story was that a female bartender in Miami invented the modern iteration.

Cheryl Cook worked at the Strand in South Beach. In 1985 or ’86, she also took that original San Francisco cocktail and zhoozhed it up. She too put citrus vodka, cranberry and Cointreau in it, but kept the Rose’s lime. The detractors of this story cite the year as the problem. Absolut Citron was the first citrus vodka on the market, and as mentioned earlier Absolut Citron was not released until 1988.

But Absolut test marketed it before the general release. And where was a test market? Miami. Also, Cheryl’s venue The Strand had a high-profile clientele. Madonna, for instance was a regular guest. And some other regular guests? Already well-known costume designers who would later work on…Sex and the City.

So where does the truth lie? Both Cheryl and Toby are credited as inventors in respected cocktail books. Sarah believes that both are true.

“Both cocktails came from similar environments even if they were in radically different parts of the country,” she says. “They both had similar clientele (sometimes the same clientele!) that likely requested the popular San Francisco version of the cocktail. Both bartenders wanted to make it better but keep its crowd-pleasing look. Both worked in bars that a powerful brand certainly would have been pushing its new product in. And both were working with the limited ingredients available to bartenders in the mid-late 80s.”

Sarah says, the difference is the lime.

“Cheryl made the drink better, but honestly, I think Toby did it best,” she says. “So, I do think that when we’re talking about the recipe we typically use today, the one with fresh lime juice, we do need to credit him. However, Cheryl’s work should be remembered and credited, because it was an important step in the development of the Cosmo, and we need to do a better job of recognizing when women play a role.”

She adds, “Historically female contributions are much likelier to go uncelebrated.”

Felling thirsty? Channel your inner Carrie Bradshaw and mix up Once Upon a Cocktail’s twist on the Cosmo.

“When Katie (Once Upon a Cocktail’s co-author) introduced me to flower infused Una Vodka, I was pleased to find it to be well made,” says Sarah. “It has a lower alcohol percentage than is common, which works well in today’s trend for lower alcohol cocktails. The flower infusion is lovely and gives it a special appeal.”

She continued, “When the opportunity of pairing with them for a class on The Hidden History of Women in Cocktail Literature came up, the idea of serving and talking about the development of the Cosmopolitan jumped into my head immediately. I modified the traditional recipe from cranberry juice to a fresh raspberry cordial and lime juice to lemon. The changes went beautifully with Una Vodka.”

Check out the recipe below and enjoy the beauty and elegance that is the Una Vodka Cosmopolitan.

Una Vodka Cosmopolitan


  • 1.5 oz Una Vodka
  • 0.5 oz Cointreau
  • 0.5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1 oz Raspberry Cordial
  • Flower and Dehydrated Orange Wheel for garnish with a sprinkle of Edible Shimmer Powder on the flower

*Raspberry Cordial

  • 6 oz Raspberries
  • 1 oz Lemon Juice
  • 11 oz Water
  • 3.25 oz Sugar

Mix raspberries with lemon juice to coat. Bring water and raspberries to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes (skim any foam). Strain without pressing raspberries. Stir sugar into hot juice until dissolved.

Method: Serve in a coupe or martini glass. Shake with ice and strain.

Una Vodka Cosmopolitan recipe created by Once Upon a Cocktail’s Sarah L.M. Mengoni.

Once Upon A Cocktail