Cocktail of the Week: The Zombie

Need some good old fashioned resurrecting after a long hard week? Yeah, same, and there is really only one thing for it. While it’s true that some of the finest drinks can be a delicate dance for the tastebuds, this week’s cocktail is a real lightning bolt delivered directly to the the frontal lobe. Ladies and gentlemen: may we interest you in a Zombie?

With Spooky Season firmly upon us, the Zombie feels like an appropriate choice of swill. With a long (and often contested) ingredient list, this Tiki classic is not nearly present enough on menus for our liking. That said, there is one bar in Toronto that is singlehandedly raising the Zombie from the dead with its stellar offering of the punchy drink: Cry Baby Gallery.

Cry Baby Gallery inside of the back room bar

Cry Baby Gallery began as a quiet revolution in Toronto’s increasingly trendy Dundas West neighbourhood and was, at the time of its inception in late 2019, one of the city’s few true speakeasys. Curated art gallery in the front, sexy exposed brick cocktail bar in the back, the drinks space gives 90s Meat Packing District / playboy loft vibes and we’re here for it. Now hailed as one of “Canada’s Best Bars” across multiple lists, the Zombie has been on the menu since the very beginning for very good reason (ahem, if they ever take it off, we may singlehandedly fast track the apocalypse with our wrath and fury).

While considered a “classic”, Zombies are fickle; there is no officially agreed upon recipe, which allows for plenty of room for interpretation from bartenders looking to leave their own stamp on the rum based offering. At Cry Baby Gallery, for example, over 30 different ingredients go in to making the “Zombie mix”, which makes for a fun game of guesswork when playing “what’s in my sip”. All mixologists will cite a need for at least two types of rum, pineapple juice and a citrus, and some will call for apricot brandy or an orange liquer. Read: essentially, a Zombie is a glorified (but great) rum punch with a highly marketable name.

Recipe card shows how to make a Zombie cocktail; the drink is on the left and the recipe is on the right

So, to whom can we attribute this chaotic sip — and why exactly is it called a “zombie”? All stories that start with a character called “Donn Beach” are great ones, right? Right.

Mr. Beach (actual name Earnest Raymond Beaumont Gantt), opened the first ever tiki bar in Hollywood’s golden era during the 1930s. Think kitsch meets Polynesia, shaken with heady tropical escapism, fresh juices, and high proof rum. In his palm-studded paradise, Donn Beach rustled up the now notorious Zombie among his roster of tiki sips, reportedly in response to a guest who was in dire need of a hangover cure before (!) work. Keeping the recipe to his mystery “Donns Mix” ingredient a closely guarded secret, word of a cocktail strong enough to raise the dead got around; pretty soon, everybody wanted in on the action. Rumour has it that a two-drink maximum was put in place to reign in the revelry. (Fair.)

Cry Baby Gallery interior of the front room's art gallery

The Zombie really solidified its status as a liquid legend at the 1939 New York World Fair, where it was a heavy hitter at the Hurricane Bar, and then again in 1946, when Trader Vic included a version with grenadine in his much famed Book of Food and Drink.

Part legend, part mystery, and mixed with copious lashings of rum, the Zombie is really a drink best ordered at a good bar, made by trusty creators like Cry Baby Gallery’s Rob Granicolo, Stephen Gouzopoulos or Danielle Levasseur. Oh, and hot off the press: the team has just opened a brand new bar, Le Tigre, in Rosedale, and it’s giving pure 80s Miami Vice. We can’t wait to visit!