Arnold Palmer: The Taste of Summer
Southern porch and golf course are its natural habitat. But lately, the famed lemon-and-tea beverage has become a city slicker too.
Summer has us looking forward to a festive Pimm’s Cup, a frothy Ramos fizz, endless bittersweet gin and tonics—and, for many, an Arnold Palmer. Mention the OG mocktail to women of a certain upbringing, and they will get a little misty; some remember their first sip the way they remember their first kiss.
“They always make me think of lazy summer days and golf,” says Jennifer Creel, the jewelry designer. Vogue contributing editor and author Marina Rust makes the point that “ordering an Arnold Palmer makes the granular sugar/stirring/lemon squeezing unnecessary” in a regular ice tea. “The perfect combination of tart and sweet,” adds Lydia Fenet, the charity auctioneer and author of Claim your Confidence, “and the best drink to have poolside.”
But the drink is also for the businessman who wants to keep his wits about him. In a recent “Lunch with the FT” article—where Financial Times reporters become Kremlinologists of their subjects’ food and drink orders—financier and former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson made sure his Arnold Palmer was close at hand.
There wasn’t one “eureka!” moment when lemon graduated to lemonade as an iced tea dilutant—but Arnold Palmer himself takes some credit for the alloy. On his website, the legendary golfer wrote that he “had been drinking the combination for years.” After a hot day on the course at Latrobe Country Club, he would ask his wife, Winnie, to make him an iced tea with lemonade.
The legend of how he attached his name to the libation goes back to the late 1960s when he ordered lunch, including asking the waitress to bring him an iced tea/lemonade. A woman sitting nearby overheard and asked the waitress to bring her, “that Arnold Palmer drink.” (Incidentally, if you add bourbon or vodka, the drink becomes a John Daly—named after the golfer who has, as Wikipedia delicately puts it, “a non-country-club appearance”—as well a penchant for a drink or five…).
While you may think the Arnold Palmer is the dad jeans of drinks, the phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by the street. The hip-hop group Ratking, who had a run in New York City in the early/mid teens, showed that the country club brew also had its place in the hood—with a song literally called “Arnold Palmer.”:
“I’m a mutt, I’m iced tea mixed with the lemonade
And it made with that brisk mix, yeah get it made”
As much as we think of the beverage’s native habitat being the Southern porch and the country club, lately many New York haunts—both posh and no-so—have fashioned the Arnold Palmer in their own image. On one end of the dining spectrum, the Lambs Club—that Geoffrey Zackarian homage to 1940s glamour—makes a Palmer with unsweetened iced tea, slightly sweetened natural lemonade, and served with ice cubes made of Arnold Palmer mix, so your drink does not get watered down as the ice melts. The Nomad Hotel rocks a yuzu Palmer, with oolong tea, lemon and that lumpy Chinese citrus which tastes like a mashup of lime, lemon and grapefruit.
On the other end of the dining experience are Shake Shack (with its trademarked “Fifty/Fifty”) and The Grey Dog in Greenwich Village. We’re not sure what exactly their secret sauce is, but recently it prompted one customer to rave: “When I die in the year 2089, fill my casket with Arnold Palmers and bury me behind the counter. Eternal happiness.”
Hero image by TheCrimsonMonkey via Getty Images