The World’s Best Long Island Iced Tea Recipe

My parents recently had the carpet on the second floor of their house replaced.  My father’s office is up there, historically a dense and chaotic ecosystem of files and books and four decades of computer electronics.  All of this had to be temporarily clearcut for the carpet to be changed, and as my father reconstitutes the room he is taking the opportunity to go through his papers and impose less stochastic organizational principles upon them.  And so, last night, as I was visiting my parents for a family dinner, my father casually mentions to my mother, “Oh, I was going through some things, and guess what I found?”

“What?”

“The world’s best Long Island iced tea recipe.”

“You mean from all those years ago?” asked my mother.

“Yes!  The one Rich Roberts gave us.”

“Oh, neat,” said my mother.

And, curiously, the conversation seemed in danger of ending there.  So it fell to me to ask, “Well, when are we trying it?”

A few minutes of preparation, pouring, and tasting later I told my parents they needed to give me a copy of the recipe to post online.

“I don’t think so!” said my mother.

“What?  Why not?  Don’t you want there to be more and better Long Island iced teas in this world?”

Eventually I secured permission. “But on one condition,” my mother said.  “You have to post the whole story of how we got it.”

“Okay.  Deal.  What’s the story?”

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My mother grew up in Chicago, eating at Pizzeria Unos, a famous Chicago-style pizza joint opened in 1943.  During the late 70s my parents lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and were both sufficiently enamored with the place that they would regularly drive the 4+ hours from Ann Arbor to Chicago for an Unos dinner.  One night in 1979 my mother and her friends put a blindfold on my father, packed him into a car, and drove for something much less than four hours before marching him into a building, sitting him down, and removing his blindfold inside what was, impossibly, Unos.  The restaurant had franchised; a branch had been opened in Ann Arbor by a guy named Rich Roberts, and my mother had secured a reservation for opening night.

Thereafter my parents ate at both frequently, and passed Rich notes on things that the original location was doing that he wasn’t, so he could improve his operation. (Me: “You conducted industrial espionage on your favorite pizza place?” My Mother: “Well, yes.  But motivated purely by self interest.  Rich was so much closer to where we lived.”) Eventually Rich began to innovate, which got him in trouble with the franchise managers.  He had my parents write a letter on his behalf, outlining in detail what things he was doing differently, and why they were improvements.  The relationship between my parents and this restaurateur was apparently a cozy one.  My father reports that several years after they had moved away from Ann Arbor, he found himself in Michigan for a conference and took a road trip to Unos.  Rich was there, told him that the staff still talked about the guy brought in blindfolded on opening night, and comped his table.

Rich’s Unos was known not just for its pizzas, but for its Long Island iced teas as well.  And so before they moved across the country, they prevailed upon Rich to have his bartender write down for them the recipe.

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THE WORLD’S BEST LONG ISLAND ICED TEA (circa 1979, with thanks to Rich Roberts)

  • Fill a 50 oz. pitcher 3/4 full with ice.  Add the following:
  • 2 oz. vodka
  • 2 oz. gin
  • 2 oz. rum
  • 2 oz. tequila
  • 1/2 oz. triple sec
  • 2 oz. orange juice (unless doubled, see below)
  • 2 oz. Daley’s Cocktail sweet and sour mix (if using another brand, double amount of orange juice)
  • Fill with Coca Cola or Pepsi. (Pepsi preferred)

It took me 500 words to earn this.  Go forth and drink.

5 Comments

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  1. Can’t wait to try it. Have had many LIIT’s in my day…looking for the perfect one! SO glad you spent those 500 words!

  2. Four years later, this is by far the most visited thing I’ve ever posted. You win this one, parents.

  3. Giving it a try this weekend. I’m sure it will be delicious!!!

  4. We’ll try it out – 1979, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Unos, and a guy named Rich.. Any drink recipe with that type of heritage & backstory gets its due diligence.

  5. I will be making this tomorrow. Sounds great and pretty easy. I’ll be making 2 gallons so hopefully everyone likes it. Thank you for sharing

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