Over Drinks, She's Charming
The 'Cocktail Queen of Orlando' likes to stir things up.
Mark Losh Photography
It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I’m sitting in a red leather-lined booth in the Stardust Lounge, a low-ceilinged basement cocktail bar practically under Lake Eola. It’s dark, with a kind of Vegas vibe, and I’m having drinks with Cheryl Charming (her real name), the self-proclaimed Cocktail Queen of Orlando.
Miss Charming (as she often calls herself) has a flashing smile and an encyclopedic knowledge of adult beverages that would be scary if she weren’t so cheerful about it. Mid-conversation, she says, “Here’s something else!” and with a slap on my arm she explodes into the history of flavored vodka. She talks about exotic liqueurs the way other people discuss the weather. And like a good mixed drink, she’s bubbly, intense and amusing. Asked what she’d like to drink, Charming tells the bartender, “Bring me a Sauvignon blanc, an elderflower liqueur and a glass of soda water. I’ll mix it myself.”
“I know it’s just cocktails,” she says about her obsession-slash-profession, “but they’re fun! And this country was built on rum; look it up.”
According to Charming, Orlando isn’t quite at the forefront of the mixed drink scene, with a few notable exceptions. “What’s been happening in the last 10 years is fresh execution—hand-squeezed fruit juices, hot new liqueurs—and Orlando isn’t there yet.” She points to Ocean Prime, which uses hand-muddled cucumber in its gimlets, and Todd English’s bluezoo, which features fresh peach purée for Bellinis, as examples that we’re on the right track.
Born in Los Angeles, the 49-year-old mixologist moved with her family to Little Rock, Arkansas, when she was very young. “I grew up in small, small, small-town America,” she says. From waitressing at 16, she worked as a bartender, then on cruise ships, and in 1989 she helped set up the Adventurer’s Club at Disney’s Pleasure Island. After 28 years behind one bar or another, she’s now traveling the country as a spirited entrepreneur.
“I’m kind of like a celebrity,” she says. She’s written nine books since 2000, with such titles as Miss Charming’s Guide for Hip Bartenders and Wayout Wannabes. Her latest, the more conventionally-titled Bartending Basics, offers instructions for everything from a classic Rob Roy to quirky tequila concoctions. She has an iPhone app of drink trivia and sells cocktail-themed jewelry from her Web site, misscharming.com.
Finishing her drink, Charming adds that she hosts an annual Cocktail Film Fest for the Tales of the Cocktail Festival, which brings thousands of drink aficionados to New Orleans.
As we emerge blinking into the afternoon sun, she tells me, “I’m just a girl who likes the cocktail world.” And with a wave of her ice cube-shaped ring, she drives away.
Miss Charming’s favorite cocktails:
You can enjoy a cocktail that has been around since the early 1800s and is believed to be one of the first. You will be able to taste each layer of the drink.
2 ounces rye whiskey (preferably Sazerac rye)
½ teaspoon absinthe
1 ounce simple syrup
4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Strip of lemon peel
Pre-chill a rocks glass by adding ice and water to the glass or have one ready from the freezer. In a mixing glass, add large ice, the rye, simple syrup, and Peychaud’s bitters (must be Peychaud’s). Stir for at least 20 seconds to mix and chill (do not shake because that adds air bubbles and puts too much water into the cocktail). Rinse the empty chilled rocks glass with the absinthe (coat the absinthe on the entire surface of the inside of the glass). Strain the cocktail into the glass. Twist the lemon peel to release the lemon oils over the cocktail, then rim the glass with the oils. Discard peel (do not drop it into the cocktail).
Invented in 1921 at the El Floridita in Havana, Cuba, it was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite on the menu and soon became known as the Hemingway Daiquiri.
2 ounces white rum
½ ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
½ ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
Pre-chill a cocktail glass. Fill a shaker tin half with large ice and add all
the ingredients. Shake hard for at least 10 seconds. Strain (or double strain) into the chilled cocktail glass.
Invented in the early 1900s by Italian Count Camillo Negroni while visiting America, the Negroni is ordered as an aperitif. Omit the gin and it is called an Americano.
1 ounce premium dry gin
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce Italian sweet vermouth
1 lemon peel
Fill a rocks glass with ice and add all the ingredients. Stir. Twist the lemon peel to release the lemon oils over the cocktail, then rim the glass with the oils. Drop into the cocktail.