There’s the Blood & Sand and Hemingway’s favorite, Death in the Afternoon. There’s the Corpse Reviver #2 and the Scorpion Bowl.
All darkly exotic and delicious as hell.
For me, though, the best in this category has always been the Mexican Firing Squad.
It’s a very simple shake of four ingredients: tequila, lime juice, bitters and grenadine.
That last ingredient has to be freshly made, however. None of that electric-red store bought garbage will do.
I can remember my very first one, back in 2008. I landed a job as a cocktail waitress in a tiny (and I mean tiny) cocktail bar in the bottom of Manhattan’s East Village called Louis 649.
It was originally a Jazz bar, but then morphed to a cocktail focus. It is sadly closed now, but was among that first wave of cocktail joints in America’s burgeoning fascination with pre-Prohibition libations. Suffice it to say, there were plenty of drinks that I’d never heard of on our menu at that time.
It was here that I really cut my teeth as a spirits writer, learning the histories and nuances of so many bottles and recipes, from Chartreuse liqueur to The Last Word cocktail. Of our over-reaching 40-cocktail menu, the Mexican Firing Squad was instantly my favorite.
I went on to sell hundreds in the year that I worked there, initiating the masses in a drink that is always to me: Better than a Margarita, just as easy to make and ultimately very, very refreshing on a hot day.
Where Margaritas can grow too sour after a few, this cocktail is quaffable for longer, helped by a balance of less-acidic pomegranate and the shining vegetal notes of a good, blanco tequila. It’s easy to batch for a party and wonderful poolside.
The history is fun, as well.
The Mexican Firing Squad was created in 1937 at The La Cucaracha Bar in Mexico City. Does it make me happy that my favorite cocktail comes from a Mexican bar where the menu featured a cockroach dressed in a tuxedo?
Yes. Yes, it does.
The recipe for the drink was first shared in print is byfamed world traveler, cocktail writer and historian Charles H. Baker, in his The Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book Or, Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask. That was published in 1947, and while you’ll find some modern recipes adding soda to create a highball version—for me, a Mexican Firing Squad is only ever perfect served in a rocks glass, sans bubbles.
Every time I drink one, I think back on long nights, slinging drinks and singing Sam Cooke with customers, in a tiny, tiny one-room bar in a bygone East Village.
I truly miss those days, but I rarely ever miss this drink. It’s easy enough to reach for the ingredients at home, or to wander down to The Elysian Bar in the Marigny neighborhood. They do a spot-on rendition.
To ensure your version sings (or, should we say ‘fires’), absolutely make your own grenadine.