I don’t want to shock anyone, but there is drinking in this establishment.
For noir fiction, booze is as much a staple to the gumshoe’s identity as cigarettes, femme fatales, or cynicism. Drinking doesn’t necessarily DEFINE the detective’s identity, but a tee totaling gum-shoe is a rarity indeed in the dark worlds of hard-boiled, noir pulp fiction.
Beer and straight whisky is the gumshoe’s stock-in-trade, but they are by no means the limits to their alcoholic repertoire. Wines, house blends and varietals alike, come into play depending on the company they keep and environment, and most noir sleuths would never turn up their nose at a hearty ale or a thick stout.
Cocktails on the other hand, require a bit of consideration.
Most hard-boiled types would never dip their bill into a drink with a fancy garnish or sweet juice unless they’ve been shanghaied to a place where tropical fruit grows plentifully. The same goes for salted rims and fancy names, and the only time a hurricane glass should ever be used is in the event of a hurricane.
A good general rule of thumb for most noir detective cocktails is that Bourbons and Cognacs should never be made into a cocktail unless they are mixed with scotch and soda.
The good detective cocktail will be light in ingredients, so make sure you don’t skimp. A good drink can turn bad quickly by using cheap booze.
The following drinks should fit into any dive bar or Speakeasy you wander into, pre- or post-prohibition. Enjoy the list and remember to detect responsibly.
11) The Manhattan
We start off breaking the rules and walking a dangerous line with a fruit garnish. “’The Manhattan’ has a cherry in it, for gosh sakes! Get it out of here!”
You’d have a point there, but I’d never stoop to call this drink anything less than a manly inebriate. For years, the Manhattan was a staple of Made Men everywhere! And if it’s good enough for the mafia….
- 3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
- 2 1/2 oz Rye whiskey
- 1 Maraschino cherry
10) The White Russian (or Caucasian)
A drink near and dear to my heart, the White Russian (or Caucasian if you use Half and Half instead of cream) is the drink of choice of Jeff Bridges “The Dude,” star of the neo-noir masterpiece that is The Big Lebowski. It is smooth, relaxed, and like the Dude himself, at home in any dive bar.
- 2 oz vodka
- 1 oz Kahlua
- Half and half or cream
9) The Tequila Sunrise
Again we skirt the fine line between fruity and hard-boiled, but the Tequila Sunrise has a lot of hard-boiled oomph in its corner. Firstly it was the namesake of an eighties movie that gave a nod to the Humphrey Bogart-Claude Rains relationship from Casablanca. Secondly the term “2 measures of tequila” is shorthand for “lots.” Made right, it can have as much punch as a Long Island Loan Shark.
- 2 measures of Tequila
- ¾ cup orange juice
- ½ oz. grenadine syrup
8) The Dirty Martini
While the Martini and the dry version of the same bring to mind visions of James Bond, the Dirty Martini is straight-up old school noir. In the Hammett masterpiece “The Thin Man,” Nick Charles made a mean one as he solved the granddaddy of missing persons case. One has to imagine how much quicker the caper would have been wrapped up without them.
- 1 1/2 oz of Scotch (or Bourbon)
- 3/4 of Amaretto Almond Liqueur
7) The Godfather
Equally dignified and notorious, the Godfather naturally brings to mind visions of Brando sitting regally behind his desk as his capos pay him respect. Will this drink elevate you to his stature? Almost certainly not, but it might make you forget any indictments or pending racketeering charges hanging over your head.
- 1 1/2 oz Scotch
- 3/4 of Amaretto Liqueur
6) Whisky and Coke
The “Working Man’s” drink. Available everywhere, understood world-wide and impervious to a bad bartender, the Whiskey and Coke can be ordered automatically whenever your mind is on the case or you find yourself staring down the barrel of a tommy gun. Sometimes the pleasure is in the simplicity.
- 1 oz Whisky
- 7 oz Coke
5) Seven and Seven
The opposite number to the Whisky and Coke. A complete no-brainer when your bartender either doesn’t speak your language or you’ve suffered the bad end of a police interrogation. Consider this the alcoholic equivalent to the raw steak over a black eye.
- 1 oz whiskey
- 7 oz lemon-lime soda
4) The Rusty Nail
Some drinks just sound like a noir story, and the Rusty Nail is the king of them. Just make sure you don’t smile when you order this, and also make sure that you don’t order it “up,” or the bartender will bring it to you in a stemmed glass and you’ll lose shamus points. For added trivia points, if you substitute Canadian Rye for Scotch you call it a “Donald Sutherland.”
- 1 1/2 oz Scotch
- 1/2 oz Drambuie
- Twist of Lemon peel
3) The Gin and Tonic
The grandfather of the no-brainer drinks, this cocktail just screams trench coat and fedora. No-nonsense, no frills, the Gin and Tonic is an icon of dive bars everywhere. This is where the gin makes the drink, so don’t skip. And if you really want to go back to the old-school cocktail, substitute your tonic for flat water.
- 2 oz. gin
- 5 oz. tonic water
- Wedge of lime
2) The Tom Collins
No tough guy can stand anyone meddling in their business, and that’s exactly how the Tom Collins came to be. As a running bar gag, friends would tell their odd-man-out that a fellow named Tom Collins was just in telling stories about them. He would see red and they would tell him to go to a bar across town and ask the bartender about him. Eventually an entrepreneurial bartender invented the Tom Collins and gave it to any stooge who came in asking for one.
You can’t go wrong asking for one today, even though it borders on the fruit-juicy side of noir. This is great to hear, because as everyone knows, it’s Jack Daniels who talks all the crap nowadays!
- 2 ounces gin
- 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon superfine sugar or Rich Simple Syrup
- 4 ounces cold club soda
- Wedge of orange
1) The Highball
The Highball is the cornerstone of hard-boiled drinks, bringing the kind of gravitas that other drinks can only dream of. Equally at home in the hands of Bogart, Martin or Sinatra, the Highball was so well-thought of that in 1915 William J. McKenna wrote a musical number celebrating the drink. Suck on THAT, Cosmopolitan!
- 1 ounce whiskey
- 5 ounces cold ginger ale
- Twist of lemon
All of these drinks should help you with a plausible alibi when the cops ask you what you were drinking when the light went down and gunplay ensued. Each is hearty, filling, go down well, and there isn’t an umbrella sticking out of any of them.
When you are tailing some schmuck down the foggy back alleys of old San Fran, sometimes it helps to take some of the chill off. A cold-weather stalwart, it is one of the few hot drinks that you can order and still sound like a tough guy. The original looks pretty and helps warm the bones, but in a pinch, a little of whatever’s in your flask poured into your cup of Joe provides much-needed fortification.
- 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 1/2 ounces Irish whisky
- Heavy cream, slightly whipped
Steven Gomez is a pulp writer in the best (or worst) tradition as well as the host of the Noir Factory Podcast. You can go HERE to get your FREE copy of Secrets of the Noir Factory, a history of the crimes and conspiracies of the notorious criminal cabal.