by Anne Roderique-Jones, Special for USA TODAY | Published on April 8, 2016
Vodka — America’s best-selling spirit — didn’t become popular until the 1950s when Hollywood went crazy for the martini. According to Chris Patino, director of brand education of Pernod Ricard USA, there are a handful of references that show vodka being used in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t fully embraced until the later half of the 20th century. Patino says, “This was driven mainly by Hollywood, and the country’s unquenchable thirst for all things new or foreign and exotic.” He points out that the Moscow Mule and Kangaroo (better known as a martini) were stalwarts during this time period, “But as people soon discovered, because vodka was so easy to drink and easy to mix with, it paired with just about anything.”
Fast-forward to the 1970s — the heyday of vodka and introduction of brands like Absolut, who made their way to the USA. It was then that bartenders lived though the world of “tinis.” “For the next few decades it was smooth sailing, in what some bartenders might begrudgingly refer to the ‘tini’ era. New drinks were being created every day, and most often had the affix "tini" attached to them,” says Patino. The year 1988 brought forth the Cosmopolitan, and Sex and the City lovers across the world started to sip this sophisticated pale pink vodka cocktail.
Sadly, the spirit went out of vogue during the recent cocktail revolution, when cocktail-specific bars seemed to be popping up across the country, paying homage to the classics. It was then that serious spirit connoisseurs began to eschew this once-coveted spirit.
“While it's true that vodka fell out of fashion amongst cocktail bars, it never really lost favor with the general public," Patino says. "However, as cocktail bars and mixology became more and more en vogue, bartenders began to look to the past for inspiration, and this is an area where vodka never lived.”
He explains that cocktail bars are looking to make standout drinks and that the tides have shifted back towards the acceptance of vodka again and bartenders that love using the spirit because of its blank canvas. But for Patino, “I use it because it's refreshing, and it's delicious. In fact, a lot of the chefs that I know make their first drink, after spending a long day in a hot kitchen, a vodka soda. I guess that it serves as a palate cleanser.”
Browse the gallery above for some of the country's best vodka destinations today with large collections of the spirit, vodka-centric cocktail programs or both.