A friend who works in the film business once said, “Being on a film set is just standing around watching other people standing around.” And that is exactly what I was doing.
I had been invited to the shooting of a documentary/commercial being filmed by Jose Cuervo at the legendary Trident restaurant in Sausalito. I was not there at the behest of the Cuervo people, I was there as a guest of the star of the show itself, Bobby Lozoff, former Trident bartender and the legendary inventor of the tequila sunrise. It was the first time in nearly 40 years that Lozoff had set foot back in the Trident.
“I walked out of this place on Dec. 14, 1975, and I haven’t touched another bottle since,” he whispered to me.
The Trident officially closed that day and Lozoff subsequently moved to Hawaii where he opened the Blue Max, a live music nightclub patterned on his incarnation of the Trident (the Trident was reopened in 2012 by Bob Freeman who also owns the Buena Vista in San Francisco).
I knew Lozoff because I had interviewed him back in 2011, first for my Barfly column in the IJ and then for a feature story I wrote for the National Geographic Assignment blog in 2012. Over the years we have kept in touch, but since he lived in Hawaii and I lived here, we had actually never met in person.
Now we stood in the bar of the rechristened Trident and swapped bartender stories while an army of film people swarmed around us. Lozoff is something of a celebrity these days. In the bar and cocktail world it is rare to actually have the inventor of a world-famous cocktail still around, or even identifiable, for that matter. Cocktails come and go, but the really famous tipples are all 75 to 100 years old. Even the Moscow mule, which is all the rage right now, traces its heritage back to the 1940s.
One of the relative newcomers is the tequila sunrise. The name was coined in the 1930s but the drink, as we know it — tequila, orange juice and grenadine — was invented in the early 1970s by Lozoff at the Trident. It’s almost like being able to ask Ian Fleming himself exactly what he meant by “shaken, not stirred.” Regardless of what you think of the drink, there is no denying its far-reaching fame. Movies and rock songs have made use of it. On a recent trip to Paris, I saw the drink on at least two cocktail menus. That kind of fame does not go unnoticed.
Jose Cuervo tequila has used the drink twice to promote its product — once in the 1970s and again recently in a television ad using the Rolling Stones’ 1972 tour as a backdrop. It was Lozoff himself who introduced Cuervo to the Stones at the Trident in 1972.
The first time around Cuervo neglected to mention Lozoff. This time around the company appears to be more than making up for it.
“We’re almost ready for you,” a pretty film assistant said, interrupting Lozoff as he pointed out the espresso bar that he helped build more than 40 years ago.
“They want me to make 10 or so fancy cocktails,” he tells me. “Why don’t you do it?”
The Cuervo people want none of that.
“I’m just an old hippie bartender,” he said, declining. “In my day it was, ‘You’re not ready [to order]?’ Next!” he said pointing to an invisible patron.
It might have been 40 years ago, but Lozoff is still a bartender at heart. He’ll be the first to admit that he doesn’t particularly care for grenadine; he calls it a name unfitting for a newspaper. But as any real bartender will tell you, what the customer wants is what the customer gets, and back then grenadine ruled the day. Lozoff prefers a sunrise with crème de cassis, a black currant liqueur, but he acknowledges that the drink is prettier with grenadine. He also adds that “making it with both” is optimum. The new Trident agrees, featuring that version on its menu. As for Cuervo and the Stones’ preferences, we will simply have to wait and see.
The last I saw of Lozoff, assistants were powdering his face for a close-up. Forty years later he’s finally getting his due. Better late than never.