Over Drinks, She’s Charming
The ‘Cocktail Queen of Orlando’ likes to stir things up.
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.