A History Lesson With Booze ®

Coney Island Cyclone and The Thunderbolt


[The Cyclone now  sits on the site of the first ever roller coaster – Switchback Railway – on Coney Island in New York.]


It was the late 19th century and LaMarcus Adna Thompson was losing his mind. He was a natural carpenter and inventor but somehow he’d ended up in the pantyhose business. It made him a fortune and also gave him a near nervous breakdown.

So in the early 1880s he sold his company and looked for inspiration to build something. He found it in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania where, decades earlier, a coal company had built what’s called a ‘gravity railroad’: a nine mile downhill track that let them transport coal out of the mine.

By the 1880s the railway wasn’t used for mining anymore. Instead, people paid 50 cents each to ride down it. It gave Thompson an idea. He’d make a miniature gravity railroad and install it in the up-and-coming resort town of Coney Island, Brooklyn.

In 1884 Thompson opened his ‘Switchback Railway’, America’s first roller coaster. Space Mountain it wasn’t. Passengers sat in a car. It rolled down a track. Then workers pushed it up onto another track which the car rolled down in the other direction. Top speed: 6 mph. But thrill seekers flocked to it anyway.

The railway cost $1,600 to build and brought in $700 a day. Soon roller coasters sprung up around the country and Coney Island was one of the best places to ride them. At one point it was home to three amusement parks.

Even today, the island’s most famous landmark is a coaster: the Cyclone. It opened in 1927 on the site of Thompson’s original switchback railway. ~Michelle Philippi

Switchback Railway was patented on January 20, 1885. Today, the space once occupied by this amusement park progenitor is home to The Cyclone, which can be seen from Peggy O’Neil’s bar a few blocks away. James Quigley is part owner of Peggy O’Neill’s in Coney Island, and the creator of The Thunderbolt, a cocktail that honors the coasters of old.

When the Astroland was running The Cyclone — they were operators of the roller coaster for the past 25 years, probably even more — there were guys who would walk the tracks everyday with a bucket of nails and replace any nail that came out.

I’ve ridden it a few times. If you ride in the first car, you’re in the front, that’s invigorating. If you’re in the last car that’s where you get shaken up. Make sure you book a chiropractor appointment the following day.

We have a signature drink at Peggy O’Neill’s called the Thunderbolt. The Thunderbolt was one of the other signature roller coasters on Coney Island as well. That roller coaster was actually featured in the Woody Allen movie Annie Hall.


  • 2 oz. orange-infused vodka
  • 2 oz. cranberry juice
  • A splash of Red Bull


1. Take an 8 ounce glass and fill it with ice. You want to start off with two ounces of an orange infused vodka. The orange is there because it brings you old days of creamsicles and orange flavored drink that you would get in Coney Island. A classic taste.

2. Next you want to take two ounces of cranberry juice on top of that. Cranberry juice is going to you the color. See how there’s a little red influence that was in the Thunderbolt roller coaster? We’re using cranberry not just for flavor for a little coloring as well.

3. When you got on the Thunderbolt roller coaster, you’d take that first step and you’re going to get a rush. So we’re going to replace that rush with Red Bull. It’ll keep your heart pounding and you screaming, ready for more.