If you've been drinking at all in the last 20-odd years, it's likely you've seen a Cosmopolitan. Its popularity and longevity have led many booze scholars to deem it a classic, giving it status comparable to the Martini, Daiquiri, Manhattan, and others. This reputation is deserved — when made well, the "Cosmo" is a satisfying, unabashedly pleasant drink. Whether it’s a dive bar or dinner party, you’ll probably find one in somebody’s hand. It has a guileless charm that’s difficult to deny.
Despite its enduring appeal, it's not universally beloved. Critics cite an array of flaws, from its use of vodka (still a pariah in certain quarters of the cocktail cognoscenti), dependence on cranberry juice ("Too sweet! Not fresh!"), and its association with young, inexperienced drinkers (few things are as damaging to a drink's prospects as being labeled a "kiddie drink").
Regardless, the Cosmopolitan is considered a standard. And if there's anywhere you should be able to find a standard drink; it's a chain restaurant. A quick peek at the TGI Fridays website revealed that they offer three variations, so it was safe to assume they knew their Cosmos. It was also safe to assume I was going to take at least one of them for a test-drive.
At the first location, I decided the best strategy was simplicity, so I went with a "regular" Cosmo. Looks-wise, it hit all the marks: A solid pour of pale-pink liquid cradled in a tall, stemmed glass and topped with a carefully-curled strip of lemon peel. Unfortunately, the drink tasted thin and flat. When I asked about the ingredients, I discovered a lack of lime juice was to blame.
At location No. 2, I got a virtually identical drink. Again, when I asked about the specifics of the recipe, lime juice was absent. It was apparently not an oversight, but done by design. Whatever the reason, TGIF seems to have opted for a lime-less Cosmo, and that's too bad. A little blast of citrus is crucial for this drink.
Interestingly, the two restaurants also used different brands of vodka, as well as different types of orange liqueur. This didn't drastically affect the drink, but it's a heads-up that things can vary from place to place. What didn't vary was the unfailing friendliness of the bar staff (something I've noticed at every chain restaurant I've visited). It's a reminder that a good bartender beats a bad drink every time.
Follow contributing writer Craig Mrusek on twitter @DoctorBamboo