Food & Drinks

How the Siesta Became a Modern Classic – PUNCH

Call it beginner’s luck.

Katie Stipe was just starting her bartending career at Flatiron Lounge, one of the early hotbeds of modern mixology in New York City, when, in 2006, she came up with the Siesta. A spin on the Hemingway Daiquiri, it contained tequila, lime and grapefruit juices, simple syrup and Campari.

“It was one of her first drinks on the menu,” recalls Julie Reiner, co-owner of Flatiron, and it caught fire immediately, becoming one of the bestselling original cocktails in the bar’s history. In Reiner’s view, it was emblematic of the sort of drink that Flatiron did well, a cocktail whose approachable character, on paper, masked secret complexities that broadened the palate of the customer.

“The Siesta fit the bill of being a good wolf in sheep’s clothing,” says Lynnette Marrero, who worked as a bartender at Flatiron at the time. “We often had cocktails that may appear as simple drinks, that were actually more complex in nature.”

What made the Siesta challenging in 2006 were the two ingredients Stipe substituted for the Hemingway Daiquiri’s usual rum and maraschino liqueur—tequila and Campari. The cocktail bartending community was only starting to reevaluate and exalt tequila as a liquor worthy of respect; the spirit was rarely encountered by drinkers in any form beyond the Margarita and Tequila Sunrise.

“Tequila cocktails had largely been an underdeveloped category,” says Stipe. “We were all hungry for knowledge and creative development and most likely thrilled that there was so much uncharted territory within the world of cocktails.”

Reiner, meanwhile, was amazed that a mere quarter-ounce of Campari made such a difference in the drink, giving the sour a bitter backbone. “Phil Ward and I were both bummed that we didn’t think of the idea first,” jokes Reiner, mentioning a fellow Flatiron bartender of the time.

Social media then being in its infancy, news of the Siesta spread slowly, mainly by word-of-mouth. Flatiron was a wellspring of mixology talent, and when bartenders left to pilot other bar programs, they took their recipe knowledge with them, organically growing the audience of a given drink. Jim Meehan’s The PDT Cocktail Book, published in 2011, was one of the first documents to put the Siesta in black and white.

But the Siesta may have found its true Johnny Appleseed in the form of Speed Rack, the roving cocktail contest founded in 2011 by Marrero and Ivy Mix to highlight the talents of female bartenders nationwide, while simultaneously raising money for breast cancer education, prevention and research. In each round of Speed Rack competition, bartenders are called upon to create several drinks from memory as fast and accurately as possible. Thrown into the mix of possible drinks, beginning in 2015, was Stipe’s Siesta. It has since been featured on Speed Rack bouts in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

“We love it for the Speed Rack specs because in general there are not as many tequila classic cocktails,” explained Marrero, who notes that classics created by women are even rarer.

Recently, Marrero offered another boon to the Siesta’s popularity. In 2020, she created a cocktail course with Ryan Chetiyawardana for the online learning platform MasterClass, spotlighting the Siesta in a lesson focused on sours.

“Consumers are bigger and bigger agave fans now,” she says, “and this cocktail was great to teach sours where you use liqueurs and syrup in balance.”

For Mix’s part, the Siesta has a home at Leyenda, her Brooklyn bar focused on Latin and South American spirits. “It’s not on the menu permanently,” says Mix, “but it’s one we expect staff to know.”

Stipe went on from Flatiron to work at more than a dozen bars. The list of original cocktails she has invented is hundreds long. But the Siesta has held on to its place as her best-known creation. Stipe thinks she has probably produced better drinks over the past 15 years, yet it’s the Siesta that perseveres. Apart from its use of readily available ingredients, it’s a gateway cocktail to those curious about agave spirits and bitters. In other words, it is the perfect combination of nonthreatening and eye-opening.

“It seems like a no-brainer recipe now,” Stipe says. “It wasn’t then.”

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