Sidecar Cocktail History

July 23, 2023
Nic Polotnianko


The Sidecar cocktail is a classic drink that has stood the test of time. Known for its perfect balance of Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, it's a cocktail that has captivated the palates of many around the world. Understanding its history is not just about tracing its origins, but also about appreciating the cultural and historical contexts that gave birth to this iconic drink.

Origins of the Sidecar Cocktail

The Sidecar cocktail has a rich and intriguing history that dates back to the Prohibition Era, a time when creativity and innovation flourished in the world of cocktails. The exact origins of the Sidecar, however, are shrouded in mystery, with both Paris and London laying claim to its creation.

In Paris, the Sidecar is often attributed to Harry MacElhone, the founder of the famous Harry's New York Bar. This establishment was a popular spot for American expatriates, and it was here that the Sidecar is believed to have been first concocted.

Meanwhile, across the English Channel in London, another version of the story unfolds. Here, Pat MacGarry, a renowned bartender at the prestigious Buck's Club, is also credited with the invention of the Sidecar. The Buck's Club was known for its innovative cocktails, and it's entirely plausible that the Sidecar was born within its esteemed walls.

Despite the ongoing debate about its true birthplace, what's clear is that the Sidecar was a product of a time of great experimentation in cocktail creation. Whether in Paris or London, the Sidecar was born out of a desire for new flavors and experiences, a testament to the spirit of innovation that defined the cocktail culture of the Prohibition Era.

The Name 'Sidecar'

The name 'Sidecar' carries with it a sense of mystery and intrigue. There are several theories behind its naming:

  • The Motorcycle Sidecar Theory: Some believe that the drink was named after the motorcycle attachment, possibly because the first patron who ordered it arrived in a sidecar.
  • The Leftover Drink Theory: Another theory suggests that the name comes from the practice of serving the leftover drink in a 'sidecar' or a small glass on the side.

Sidecar Cocktail Recipe

  1. Prepare the glass:
    • If desired, moisten the rim of a chilled cocktail glass with a lemon wedge and dip it into sugar to create a sugared rim.
  2. Combine ingredients:
    • In a cocktail shaker, add 2 oz of cognac, 1 oz of orange liqueur, and 0.75 oz of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
  3. Shake and strain:
    • Fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously for about 15 seconds. Strain the mixture into the prepared cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish:
    • Twist a lemon peel over the drink to release its oils, then drop it into the glass or drape it over the rim.

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The Sidecar is a delightful mix of sour, sweet, and strong flavors. The combination of cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice creates a smooth and refreshing taste, with a hint of warmth from the cognac.

Evolution of the Sidecar Recipe

The original Sidecar recipe has undergone several changes and variations over the years. The classic recipe calls for equal parts of Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice. However, bartenders around the world have put their own spin on this classic:

  • Some prefer a stronger Cognac presence, adjusting the ratio to favor the spirit.
  • Others add a sugar rim to the glass to balance the tartness of the lemon juice.
  • There are also variations that use other spirits in place of Cognac, such as bourbon or Armagnac.

Despite these variations, the essence of the Sidecar remains the same - a harmonious blend of spirit, sweetness, and citrus.

The Sidecar Cocktail Today

In the modern cocktail culture, the Sidecar holds a place of honor. It's a testament to the timeless appeal of its balanced, refreshing flavor profile. Despite its age, the Sidecar continues to inspire and influence the world of mixology.

Variations and twists on the Sidecar recipe are common today. Bartenders experiment with different types of citrus, swap out Cointreau for other orange liqueurs, or add a dash of bitters for complexity. Some even play with the spirit base, using bourbon or other types of brandy.

The Sidecar's influence extends to other cocktails as well. Drinks like the Margarita and the Cosmopolitan can trace their lineage back to the Sidecar, sharing the same basic structure of spirit, citrus, and sweetener.

Making the Perfect Sidecar

Creating the perfect Sidecar is a matter of understanding its essential ingredients and their quality:

  • Cognac: A good quality Cognac is crucial for a great Sidecar. It provides the rich, complex base upon which the other flavors build.
  • Cointreau: This orange liqueur adds a sweet, citrusy counterpoint to the Cognac.
  • Lemon Juice: Freshly squeezed lemon juice is a must. It adds the necessary tartness that balances out the sweetness of the Cointreau.

The importance of balance in the Sidecar cannot be overstated. The interplay between the rich Cognac, the sweet and citrusy Cointreau, and the tart lemon juice should be harmonious, with no single element overpowering the others.

When it comes to serving and presentation, a chilled cocktail glass with a sugar rim is traditional. The sugar rim provides a sweet contrast to the tart drink, enhancing the overall experience.


The Sidecar cocktail is more than just a delightful blend of Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice. It's a testament to the creativity and innovation of the Prohibition Era, a symbol of the timeless appeal of well-balanced flavors, and a cornerstone of modern cocktail culture. Whether you subscribe to the Paris or London origin story, there's no denying the Sidecar's significant influence on the world of cocktails. From its possible birthplaces in the esteemed bars of Europe to its place in bars around the world today, the Sidecar has traveled a long and fascinating journey. As we enjoy this classic cocktail, we're not just savoring its harmonious blend of flavors, but also appreciating a piece of cocktail history. So, here's to the Sidecar - a drink that encapsulates the spirit of an era and continues to captivate cocktail lovers around the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the story behind the Sidecar cocktail

The Sidecar was created during the Prohibition Era, with both Paris and London claiming its invention. Theories behind its name include a reference to a motorcycle sidecar and the practice of serving leftover drink in a small side glass.

What cocktail family does the Sidecar belong to?

The Sidecar belongs to the family of sour cocktails, which are drinks featuring a spirit, a sweetener, and a citrus element.

Who invented the Sidecar?

The invention of the Sidecar is attributed to either Harry MacElhone of Harry's New York Bar in Paris or Pat MacGarry of the Buck's Club in London.

What does Sidecar mean in alcohol?

In the context of cocktails, a 'Sidecar' refers to a classic cocktail made with Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice. The term may also refer to a small glass served alongside a drink, containing either a portion of the drink itself or an additional spirit or mixer.

What is the meaning of the Sidecar cocktail?

The Sidecar cocktail is a classic drink that originated during the Prohibition Era. The name 'Sidecar' is believed to have been derived from either a motorcycle sidecar or the practice of serving leftover drink in a small side glass. The cocktail itself is a harmonious blend of Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, representing the cocktail family of sours. The balance between the rich, complex Cognac, the sweet and citrusy Cointreau, and the tart lemon juice is the essence of the Sidecar cocktail.

What is the history of the Bourbon Sidecar?

The Bourbon Sidecar is a variation of the classic Sidecar cocktail. While the original Sidecar uses Cognac as its base spirit, the Bourbon Sidecar, as the name suggests, uses Bourbon. This twist on the classic likely emerged as bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts began experimenting with the Sidecar recipe, swapping out the Cognac for other spirits. The exact origin and history of the Bourbon Sidecar are not well-documented, but it's a testament to the Sidecar's influence and versatility in the world of cocktails. The Bourbon Sidecar offers a unique take on the classic, with the bourbon lending its distinct, rich, and slightly sweet flavor to the drink.


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