Geni, left, and Rachael Shivell pose in front of a mural...

Geni, left, and Rachael Shivell pose in front of a mural created by their relative and artist, Helen Shivell, 201 Center St. in Kingsport, Tenn. Credit: Helen Shivell

Folks in Tennessee are at it again, claiming they not only originated the Long Island iced tea but that they make the best one.

But at least one local restaurant and bar owner said real Long Islanders know the deal: The triple sec-based Long Island iced tea cocktail was invented by bartender Robert Butt during a 1972 contest at the old Oak Beach Inn.

And, while the Kingsport, Tennessee version of the drink is nice — it’s not and has never been a true Long Island iced tea.

The debate reignited this week when The Reserve on East Center Street in Kingsport unveiled a 10-foot-by-10-foot wall mural as part of a Visit Kingsport tourism campaign touting the city as home of “The Original Long Island Iced Tea.” With a population of about 50,000, located near the Virginia border in northeastern Tennessee, Kingsport has a backwater area on the Watts Bar Reservoir known as Long Island.

During the 1920s, local Charlie Bishop invented a Prohibition-era drink there using five liquors and maple syrup. His son, Ransom, later tweaked the recipe — adding cola, lemon and lime. The cocktail came to be known as an “Old Man Bishop.”

At least, it was.

“Basically, this is what happens every time they’re in a little need of a tourism boost down there,” Frank Antonetti, co-owner of The Rust & Gold on Gerard Street in Huntington, said with a laugh Friday. “I’m sure Kentucky or Tennessee, or wherever it is Kingsport is, is a beautiful state — but it’s not Long Island and their drink isn’t a real Long Island iced tea.”

In fact, folks in Kingsport only changed the name of their drink once Long Island’s iced tea became famous, Antonetti said.

That drink — Long Island’s drink — uses the orange-flavored liqueur triple sec and doesn’t have whiskey or maple syrup.

That makes Long Island iced tea lighter, more refreshing and easier to drink compared to the heavier, sweeter "Old Man" version, said Antonetti, who's a bit of a mixologist historian.

About five years ago, the last time the friendly debate flared up, bartenders from Freeport Nautical Mile restaurant Hudsons on the Mile took on bartenders from Tennessee in a blind taste test. Long Island’s iced tea won here, while the “Old Man” recipe won in Kingsport.

Butch Yamali, owner of Hudsons, wins the contest with a...

Butch Yamali, owner of Hudsons, wins the contest with a unanimous decision at Hudsons in Freeport on June 27, 2018. Bartenders from Kingsport, Tennessee faced off against bartenders in Freeport to see who can make the better Long Island iced tea. Credit: Michael Owens

Artist Helen Shivell, 28, a resident of Kingsport who grew up in nearby Fall Branch, Tennessee, admitted she hadn’t known the history before she was commissioned to paint the mural.

“I understand there are a lot of people who used to drink it around the community here,” she said, “but I didn’t know the difference until I had the authentic recipe for the first time last night. It had maple syrup and it was a lot stronger than the other ones I’d had. I liked it.

"People here go for the home team," Shivell said, "and so I’ve got to go for the home team, too. We’ve got the real Long Island iced tea.”

Antonetti, for one, disagrees. As far as he’s concerned, there’s no debate.

“There’s room for a million drinks in the world,” Antonetti said. “And I’m sure next time I’m in Kingsport they can make me an ‘Old Man Bishop’ and I’ll be fine with that. It’s a good drink.

"But as a true Long Islander, here’s where I’m going to have to depart from what they’re saying down there: There’s only one real Long Island — and so we’re the only ones who get to call it a Long Island iced tea!”

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