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Americas First Celebrity Bartender

The cocktail is practically an American institution. One of the very first Bartenders to popularise the cocktail was Jerry Thomas, Americas original “Celebrity Bartender”. Thomas wrote what is widely considered as one of the first books to contain cocktail recipes, “The Bartenders Guide”.

When I first came across this small volume (last published in 1887) in a dusty ancient book shop I was blown away. Here at last was cocktail history laid bare! I bought it on the spot and literally sat up all night and read the book cover to cover. For anyone with even a flicker of interest in cocktails and drinks its an enthralling read. Jerry Thomas is to cocktail culture what Louis Armstrong is to Jazz!

Here at last, set down on paper, were some of the very first cocktail recipes ever recorded. It was incredible, but it wasn’t just cocktails, the book contained a host of other recipes, for “Punch, Egg Nogs, Juleps, Smashs, Cobblers, Mulls, Sangarees, Toddies, Slings, Sours, Flips, Negus, Shrubs, Pousse Café, Cups” and many, many more.

In total there were some 230 original recipes. Some were well-known, some I’d never even heard of! They represented an incredible cross-section of exciting and wonderful drinks.

Jeremiah P. Thomas was born in Jefferson County, New York in November 1830 and first learned the bartending trade in New Haven. He then went to San Francisco and the California gold fields.

In 1851 he opened the first of four saloons in New York, below Barnum’s Museum at Broadway and Ann Street. He then seems to have travel around the US for several years. Working as head bartender at top hotels in St. Louis, Chicago, San Francisco, Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans. Slowly turning himself into Americas first celebrity bartender! In 1859 he visited London and Paris. He took with him a set of solid silver bar utensils constructed at a cost of $4,000!

Returning to New York Thomas became the principal bartender at the Metropolitan hotel. Then in 1866 he opened his most well-known bar located on Broadway between 21st and 22nd Streets.

Thomas was “an imposing and lordly figure of a man, portly, sleek and jovial, yet possessed of immense dignity”. His trade mark was a “jacket of pure and spotless white which encased his fantastic bulk”. He also sported a huge moustache, in the Walrus style! Obviously a man once seen, not easily forgotten!

The various saloons he operated became showplaces where he demonstrated his mixologist’s art. They were very well loved with the sporting and theatrical celebrities of the day. To quote the New York times on his death in 1885 he was “at one time better known to club men and men about town than any other bartender in the city, and he was very well loved among all classes”.

He is credited with inventing the “Blue Blazer” and the “Tom and Jerry” and certainly popularised many other early cocktails and drinks. In reference to the Blue Blazer the Bartenders Guide says, “The novice in mixing this beverage should be careful not to scald himself. To become proficient in throwing the liquid from one mug to the other, it will be necessary to practise for some time with cold water.”

Thomas’s book was first published in 1862, and quickly went through half a dozen printings. The book was updated in 1876 and the final edition published in 1887. In the first edition there were ten recipes which Thomas referred to as cocktails (by the 1887 edition the cocktails numbered some 20 ). His book was probably the first to include actual recipes for cocktails and certainly the world’s first bartender’s guide.

Martin Lloyd is a long time cocktail enthusiast. He has recently published a new digital edition of the Bartenders Guide which can be downloaded from cocktailoriginals.com cocktailoriginals.com

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