A Classic Tom Collins Cocktail Inspired by 'The Last Cruise'

A Classic Tom Collins Cocktail Inspired by 'The Last Cruise'

Wednesday, 19 February, 2020

Food and drinks are some of the easiest ways — and the most fun— to vicariously experience another culture. When you add a great book to the mix, you've got the makings of a perfect evening. In Food+Fiction, we recommend a delicious read and a related recipe so you can try the taste of different destinations in your own kitchen.

This post is part of our Food+Fiction series.


In the novel The Last Cruise by Kate Christensen, a storied luxury liner is taking its last cruise from Los Angeles to Hawaii before its final voyage to the scrapyard. With a wink at its glamorous past, the cruise line has decided to make this last hoorah a retro experience with classic gourmet food, entertainment provided by a string quartet, no cell phones or children, and retro cocktails mixed at the bar.

It should be a dream experience, but as we get to know the passengers and members of the crew, it’s impossible to escape the subtle feeling of unease that permeates the ship. The writing is literary, the plot is propulsive, the characters feel like real people in all their sweet and messy and contradictory glory. Think literary Love Boat with a splash of Alfred Hitchcock.

A novel like this will not be satisifed with a cup of tea. No! A novel like this demands a fizzy, light cocktail, especially during its opening pages when we’re getting to know the passengers and exploring the decks of the Queen Isabella.

With just one sip of this effervescent, refreshing cocktail, you’ll be transported to a more glamorous age. A time when cocktail hour meant witty repartee and meaningful glances over the rim of a highball glass.

The luxury liner of the story was built in the 1950s, and the Tom Collins was one of the most popular cocktails of that decade. Gin was the liquor of choice at mid-century backyard barbecues, perhaps a hangover from Prohibition. Most people had the requisite lemon and sugar for the Tom Collins in their kitchens — and its flavor, like fizzy lemonade with a kick, made it perfect for warm-weather parties with friends and neighbors.

You can make this cocktail by pouring the ingredients into a glass and mixing with a spoon, but we prefer the shaken version. Put Phil Phillip’s Sea of Love on the hi-fi stereo, drop a cherry into the glass, and embark on The Last Cruise.

tom collins cocktail sitting on a wooden bar
Photo courtesy of Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Classic Tom Collins

Serves 1


Simple Syrup:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup water

Tom Collins:

  • 1/4 cup of your favorite gin
  • 2 tablespoons simple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • soda water
  • garnish: lemon wedges, cocktail cherries


Make the simple syrup. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool, then store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Shake the ingredients. Combine the gin, simple syrup, and lemon uice in a shaker with plenty of ice. Shake it like you mean it for 15-20 seconds.

Strain and garnish. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass and top off with soda water, then garnish with lemon and a cherry (or two, for people you really like).

Note: You can transform your Tom into a Juan by replacing the gin with tequila and the lemon juice with lime.

The rich and famous of the era booked suites and dined on filet mignon and oysters Rockefeller at the captain’s table, danced the cha-cha and the tango to hot bands in the ballroom, drank martinis and cognac in the Starlight Lounge, smoked cheroots in the casino… Gene Kelly made a splash in the ballroom for a dazzling night, squiring several starstruck matrons around the teak parquet floor, dipping one so low her diamond brooch fell off, then famously dipping her again at the end of the dance so he could pick it up again and hand it back to her… Her last cruise will be a celebration of the glorious era of glamour and elegance, a theater of nostalgia. — Kate Christensen

The Last Cruise

by Kate Christensen

The glamorous 1950s ocean liner Queen Isabella is making her final voyage — a retro cruise from Long Beach to Hawaii and back — before heading to the scrapyard. It should be a dream getaway for the guests onboard. Gourmet food, string quartets, no cell phones, no children (but smoking is allowed). What could possibly go wrong? {more}

This compelling novel (304 pages) was published in July of 2018 by Doubleday. The book takes you to a luxury cruise ship. Melissa read The Last Cruise and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.

The Last Cruise: A Novel


Top image courtesy of Ivan Smuk.

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