A swig of something saccharine
Though Shirley Temple denied having anything to do with kid-friendly drink bearing her name (she actually hated the “saccharine sweet, icky drink”), the sparkling, red mocktail has been delighting little ones since the 1930s. Since then, the childhood favorite has been tainted with a helping of vodka and dubbed the Dirty Shirley.
A recent New York Times piece dubbed the Dirty Shirley “the drink of the summer,” only for The New Yorker to bash it in their 100 tips for restaurants stating “no one over the age of 22 should be ordering one.” Shame on them! The drink has an ironic air to it and has become part of a recent pull to all things nostalgic. People are using film again, buying vinyl, reading books, so shit, why not drink a Dirty Shirls?! Plus, the easily-created, exquisitely-colored drink makes for a good Instagram photo, and that’s enough for anyone to do anything! I personally love maraschino cherries and will do anything to get one. If that means ordering the same drink I ordered at TGI Fridays for my eighth birthday, so be it. At least, I can get drunk off it now. Using Folio as a guise to enable my drinking habit, I went on the hunt for the best Dirty Shirley in Jacksonville.
Grape & Grain Exchange
Wading through a surprisingly thick crowd for a Wednesday afternoon, I met eyes with the lovely bartender of the laid-back San Marco bar and ordered a Dirty Shirley with no strange looks or questions. The concoction was a perfect mix of WÓDKA Polish vodka, Jack Rudy grenadine, Sprite (from a can) and two cherries. Yes, two!! The low carbonation and extra dirty feel mixed into an easily digestible, funky forward Shirley that left my prior knowledge of the classic syrup-slicked drink in the dust. At five bucks a pop, you could get delightfully hammered for a low price of standing in a small room with a bunch of yuppies, or you could opt for the outdoor seating and melt away in your nostalgia.
Just off Five Points’ notorious roundabout sits a small, house-like building that hasn’t held the same business for longer than a couple years. The casual wine bar, which opened in 2020, gives the strange vibes it always has being tucked away between a dentist’s office and Larry’s Giant Subs. Despite the eclectic menu of chicken lollipops and pistachio-crusted goat cheese balls, the Shirley was conventional, a mix of classic grenadine, Sprite and Tito’s vodka all served in huge beer glass sans cherries. Ordering a big plate of French fries is necessary to take down this beast of a drink. Order more than one of them and you’re sure to be walking home syrup-slicked.
Conveniently located mere steps from Prospect, the popular upscale establishment wasn’t so eager to serve me, quickly IDing me after the words “Dirty Shirley” slipped from my lips. The bartenders at the concrete, rooftop bar changed their mood once my friend showed up to meet me, probably relieved they wouldn’t have to entertain someone with tastes similar to that of a child. I returned a week later to try the drink again, not remembering much from my first go around and still can hardly describe the drink…I ordered more than one though so it must’ve been good!
The swanky Downtown speakeasy-like bar seemed to be a promising place for an updated cocktail classic, and they didn’t disappoint. The mildly hesitant bartender served a drink that appeared not to be a Dirty Shirley. I was convinced she was on the side of The New Yorker and was punishing us for ordering such a disgraceful drink, but with one stir of the straw, the seemingly Shirley-less glass transformed into a blood red, easily poundable cocktail topped with two Luxardo cherries. The deliciousness of cherry juice versus the ordinary grenadine reassured my taste buds that we too had matured much like the pasteurized cherries. I left buzzed and happy, and it was only 4 p.m. on a Thursday.
A Dirty Shirley is extremely easy to make. The only real decision is whether you want grenadine or cherry juice. Grenadine gives a sweeter, brighter drink while cherry juice gives a darker, heavier feel. If you want the flavor and color, opt for both. My recipe: two shots of vodka over ice with Sprite, a dash of Luxardo cherry juice, a dash of grenadine and four cherries because I’m obnoxious.