Taste: Spirits: Looking for the Next Buzz Aldrin

Can Stephen Starr set the cocktail standard in the new A.C.?

Though post-Prohibition Atlantic City was a hot spot of cocktail culture through to the 1950s, its watering holes have been more shabby than chic in decades since. But now the jewel of the Jersey Shore


Though post-Prohibition Atlantic City was a hot spot of cocktail culture through to the 1950s, its watering holes have been more shabby than chic in decades since. But now the jewel of the Jersey Shore is rediscovering its lost glitter, and the cocktails are flowing again. With the opening of Buddakan and the Continental at the Pier at Caesars, Stephen Starr, Philly’s homegrown king of the cocktail, is going toe-to-toe with giants from America’s bartending capital, Las Vegas.

Starr has already altered Philadelphia’s cocktail landscape. Where we once were known as a shot-and-a-beer town, ingredients from lychees to gummi worms now are routine in Center City. Forced to compete with Starr’s dozen Philadelphia venues, each with a lip-smacking menu of signature drinks, even clubby steakhouses, like Ruth’s Chris, and suburban eateries, like Basil in Paoli, have crafted their own house drink menus, to keep up with Jones, so to speak.

Starr’s restaurant group has been built on beverage success. His original venture in Old City, the Continental, targeted young people — those old enough to drink, but too young to like the taste of straight booze. There, the signature drinks are cocktails with training wheels, like the hugely popular Buzz Aldrin. Made with peach vodka and Tang and served in a martini glass, it looks grown-up but goes down as easy as soda pop. Its fruity sweetness and light-weight alcohol kick — about half the traditional martini strength — fit in nicely with drinks like the cosmopolitan.

The Continental was a runaway hit from the start, and its recipe for success has been replicated throughout the Starr universe. Customers peruse lists of tempting suggestions, often built into the food menu, rather than struggling to dredge up a decent drink from memory.

Starr is betting on this same cocktail formula in A.C. How will Buddakan’s elegant creations, like the prosecco-based Sakura, stack up against the huge and intricate tropical Volcano at Vegas-tested Rumjungle, also opening soon at the Pier? Can the Continental’s Jetsons-esque cocktails, like the amaretto-scented Big Daddy, compete with Red Square’s 100-plus ice-cold vodkas? Starr has proven he knows Philly, and Philadelphians make up the client base in upscale A.C. — which puts the odds in his favor.

Old may consult for some of the businesses she writes about.

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