Capturing the Simple Brilliance and Beauty of the Royal Tenenbaums in a Cocktail

The Royal Tenenbaums is an amazingly layered film that is so simply beautify that it is truly astonishing. After introducing the children of family as adolescences, the film follows this ‘family of geniuses’ through their reunification as they all live under the house for the first time in years and care for their father as he appears to be dying of stomach cancer.

The film is poignant scene followed by poignant scene, each with measurable emotional heft and deftly written jokes that grow during the entirety of the film. The families interplays are amazing and complex yet relatable to almost everyone. The Tenenbaums exist in a fairly monotone world dominated by subtle and demure color palates that look like they are directly out of the L.L. Bean catalogue. That is why the use of bright color is so striking with important symbolism in deep red, calm teal, vibrant yellow, and foreboding blue.

The entire film uses shockingly simple motifs and scenes to convey deep and intricate interworking of the family and their relationships. The entirety of the movie is shot with set pieces that look simple on the surface but are full of intricate and rich detail. There are layers in every shot that yearn to be explored by the viewer as colors represent more than simple set pieces or single lines ever could.

What I needed to recreate in a cocktail was simple beauty that is surprisingly complex and breath-taking yet still very accessible. I knew I needed my final product to represent the the deep red that is so important throughout the film yet not be overly sweet nor simple. Campari was obviously the perfect base to fit all my needs. Something like a Campari Soda was too rudimentary and single dimensional to adequately represent Wes Anderson’s masterpiece and the Negroni is too well known an a bit too overwhelming.  Unlike my article for Atomic Blonde I decided to base this cocktail on something existing and not create a cocktail from the ground up.

I based my Royal Tenenbaum cocktail  on the ‘Italian Gentleman’ where equal parts Campari and Bourbon interplay nicely to create a pleasing yet highly dynamic beverage. Campari is a very root-forward and dominating liquor and is hence usually relegated to a simple splash or minor role in most cocktails. Since Bourbon is so full-featured on its own it can hang with the Campari in a one-to-one ratio creating a unique interplay that is strangely balanced and even a bit demure. Just like the Royal Tenenbaums this cocktail is complex yet accessible and beautiful in its simple elegance. to create the Royal Tenenbaum cocktail follow this recipe:

The Royal Tenenbaum

  • 1.5 ounce Campari
  • 1.5 ounce Bourbon (I used Bulleit)
  • .75 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • .25 ounce home-made simple syrup
  • a couple dashes of orange bitters

Stir the ingredients well in an ice-filled shaker while your cocktail glass chills. Strain in the chilled glass and garnish with either a lemon or lime wedge.

The resulting cocktail is a perfect balance with the rooty forwardness of the Campari with the more subtle and traditional aspects of a high quality bourbon. The two main ingredients leverage each other’s strengths while combining together to create something that is more than the sum of all of its parts, just as Wes Anderson creates complex and engrossing scenes from simple set pieces and writing. The simple sugar mellows it all out and the lemon juice adds depth, just as all the minor characters in the Royal Tenenbaums help create a fully realized rich tapestry of a world.