I had my first encounter with Pimm's No. 1, appropriately enough, in Wimbledon. It was 1999. Business has relocated a college friend there temporarily. While visiting with him in his lush back yard, he made me a Pimm's Cup and told me he was mad about the stuff. Didn't I love it?
I'll be honest. It didn't make much of an impression at the time. I assumed that my friend was passing through an acute case of Anglophilia and had lost all sense of perspective where English-made goods were concerned.
Pimm's didn't truly leave its mark on me as a drink until 2006, when I stepped across the threshold of the Napoleon House in New Orleans. Everyone was drinking Pimm's Cups, and the bartender was making them by the half-dozen. When in Rome, I thought.
I liked the drink immediately this time. That it was July and scorching outside, and the cocktail was light and refreshing, certainly helped stoke my affections. I've had many Pimm's Cups at Napoleon House since, as well as at other bars across the world, and at home, where I build them fairly frequently between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
It was a pleasure to report, in this article for the New York Times, that you can walk into almost any respectable bar in NYC today and order a Pimm's Cup with confidence.
From That Tropical-Drink Paradise, England
By Robert Simonson
AS summer arrives, sandwich-board signs hawking warm-weather drinks sprout on city sidewalks: sangria, margaritas, daiquiris, mojitos and other coolers born of hot-weather countries. Lately, a fancy standard from less-than-balmy Britain has joined them.
That would be the Pimm’s Cup, a refreshing highball that uses the spicy-sweet British liqueur Pimm’s No. 1 as its bedrock. A decade ago, its inclusion on a summer drinks menu would have been an oddity. But drinkers and bartenders are better schooled today, and more welcoming. As a result, the tea-colored spirit has become almost as common as, well, tea.
At the Anvil Bar & Refuge, a three-year-old cocktail bar in Houston, the Pimm’s Cup is one of the most popular items on the menu.
“It’s a drink that’s turned into an obsession in Houston for some reason,” said Bobby Heugel, the owner.
At the Wren in the East Village, the Pimm’s Tonic, a bittered spin on the classic, tops the cocktail bill.
“In the summertime, people want to imbibe a lot,” said Krissy Harris, an owner. “You could drink several of them and walk away feeling O.K. They’re highly quaffable.”
The drink is a leading summer attraction at Huckleberry Bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Nearby, at Maison Premiere, a New Orleans-themed oyster bar, the beverage director, Maxwell Britten, has abandoned the notion of the cocktail being seasonal.
“We’ve done about seven recipes by this time,” he said, one for every season since the saloon opened in 2011. “It’s a no-brainer. A well-made Pimm’s is a great crowd-pleaser, a great seller.”
Maison’s current drink, which includes fresh lime juice, rhubarb syrup, celery water, orange, cherry and mint, is not easy to construct. But your standard Pimm’s Cup should be. The drink’s skeletal components are nothing more than a measure of Pimm’s and roughly three measures of either lemonade, lemon soda or ginger ale (your preference), served over ice in a long glass and typically garnished with cucumber.
Pimm’s No. 1, a gin-based liqueur, is named after James Pimm, the bar owner who created it in the mid 1800s. By the 1860s, it was bottled. Why “No. 1”? Well, at one point, there were other “cups,” numbered 2 through 6, based on brandy, rum and other spirits.
But the No. 1, a reddish tonic with citrusy and bitter notes, has always been the star, and it is not quite like anything else on the shelf. Over the years, it has developed a reputation as a quintessentially British refresher, consumed in ungodly amounts every year at Wimbledon.
The popularity of Pimm’s in the United States has ebbed and flowed over the last half-century or so; until recently, it was associated mainly with New Orleans.
“To me, it might as well be a New Orleans cocktail,” said Maks Pazuniak, a bartender at the Counting Room in Brooklyn who used to work at Cure, an innovative New Orleans cocktail lounge.
Chris Hannah, the head bartender at the French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s in New Orleans, agreed.
“Before I moved down here, I’d never heard of it,” he said.
The Big Easy’s strong association with the Pimm’s Cup can be chalked up almost entirely to the Napoleon House in the French Quarter, where it is the house drink.
“My dad ran a bar, but he didn’t want people to get drunk,” said the owner, Sal Impastato. “It’s a low-alcohol drink. And it lends itself well to the climate here.”
The restaurant goes through a couple of cases of Pimm’s No. 1 a day. Lately, consumption has soared among men.
“Guys order three or four now,” Mr. Impastato said. “I never saw that before.”
The Napoleon House Pimm’s Cup is simplicity itself: Pimm’s, lemonade and 7Up, crowned with a cucumber slice.
The proper garnish has long been a point of contention in Pimm’s mythology. In 1949, Jim Moran, a wily New York marketing man prone to stunts, was enlisted to raise the liqueur’s profile. He hired two actresses to stage a fight at a Manhattan nightclub over the correct garnish for a Pimm’s Cup: cucumber or mint. It made the papers.
That dispute continues in earnest today. Cucumber is commonly in the mix, though some bartenders muddle it and others don’t. Mint is often seen. But any ingredient in your average fruit salad may turn up.
The Pimm’s Cup at the newly opened Harlem bar the Cove — called the Cove Cup — sports a raspberry. At Ward III in TriBeCa, where every bartender has a rendition of the drink, you will find strawberries, blackberries and other items, depending on who’s on duty.
“For a drink that can be interpreted a million ways, it’s really hard to screw up,” said Michael Neff, an owner.
Such free rein is not necessarily approved of by all.
“I think a Pimm’s Cup should be really clean,” Mr. Pazuniak of the Counting Room said. “I don’t like the ones that have lots of things in them.”
That said, his new spin on the cocktail, called Wire and String, splits the Pimm’s with Campari and has pineapple juice. Hardly conventional but highly delicious.