Recipe Review

The Celluloid Pantry: A Tom Collins with Lime and Chinatown (1974)

updated Jan 29, 2020
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Chinatown (1974) is a thirsty film. Private eye Jake “JJ” Gittes (Jack Nicholson) uncovers a water scandal in a drought-stricken 1930s Los Angeles, taking him from parched riverbeds to the lush, green lawns and ornamental fish ponds of a private estate.

Evelyn Cross Mulwray (Faye Dunaway, above) is an icy-cool socialite, dressed impeccably in crisp linens and pearls. She serves tea from a silver service with sugar and lemon, and apéritifs in cut crystal glasses. So, naturally, when she orders a cocktail, it’s something chilled and brisk: “a Tom Collins with lime, not lemon.”

The Tom Collins is just one in a family of fizzy, citrus-y drinks. First before it was the John Collins, said to be invented by a bartender of the same name in early 19th century London. Made with the Dutch juniper-flavored liquor, jenever (an early ancestor of gin), the drink never really caught on in the U.S. until another bartender substituted Old Tom Gin (a sweeter London-style gin), and the Tom Collins was born. (To add to the family confusion, a John Collins today is usually made with whiskey or bourbon.)

Tom Collins
(makes one highball drink)

1 3/4 oz. gin
1-2 dashes gomme syrup (a.k.a. simple syrup) (1 tsp superfine sugar may also be substituted)
juice of one lemon (or lime)
club soda

Combine gin, sugar, and lemon (or lime) juice in a cocktail shaker and shake gently. Pour into a highball glass filled with ice. Top up with club soda and garnish with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry.