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Americas First Celebrity Bartender
The cocktail is almost an American institution. One of the first Bartenders to popularize the cocktail was Jerry Thomas, America’s original “Celebrity Bartender”. Thomas wrote what is widely regarded as one of the first books to include cocktail recipes, “The Bartenders Guide”.
When I first came across this little volume (last published in 1887) in a dusty old bookshop I was blown away. Here at last was the history of cocktails 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 glimmer of interest in cocktails and drinks, it’s a stunning read. Jerry Thomas is to cocktail culture what Louis Armstrong is to Jazz!
Here at last, set on paper, were some of the first cocktail recipes ever to be recorded. It was amazing, but it wasn’t just cocktails, the book contained loads of other recipes, for “Punch, Egg Nogs, Juleps, Smashs, Cobblers, Mulls, Sangarees, Toddies, Slings, Sours, Flips, Negus, Shrubs , Pousse Café, Cups” and much, much more.
There were about 230+ original recipes in total. Some were famous, some I hadn’t 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. Then he went to San Francisco and the gold fields of California.
In 1851 he opened the first of four saloons in New York, below the Barnum Museum at Broadway and Ann Street. Then it appears that he has traveled around the United States for several years. Working as head bartender in the best hotels in St. Louis, Chicago, San Francisco, Charleston, SC, and New Orleans. Slowly turning himself into America’s first famous bartender! In 1859 he visited London and Paris. He took with him a set of solid silver bar tools built at a cost of $4,000!
On returning to New York Thomas became head bartender at the Metropolitan hotel. Then in 1866 he opened his most famous bar located on Broadway between 21st and 22nd Streets.
Thomas was a “majestic and lordly figure of a man, portly, sleek and cheerful, yet possessed of immense dignity”. His trademark was “a jacket of pure and spotless white that covered his great bulk”. He also had a huge moustache, Walrus style! Clearly a man has seen it once, not easily forgotten!
The various saloons he operated became showrooms where he displayed his mixer’s art. They were very popular 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 the men and clubs of the town than any other bartender in the city, and was very popular among all classes”.
He is credited with inventing the “Blue Blazer” and the “Tom and Jerry” and certainly popularized many other early cocktails and drinks. When referring to Blue Blazer the Bartenders Guide says, “When mixing this drink the beginner should be careful not to scald himself. To become proficient in throwing the liquid from one mug to the another, it will be necessary to practice for some time with cold water.”
Thomas’s book was first published in 1862, and quickly went through half a dozen editions. The book was updated in 1876 and the final edition was published in 1887. In the first edition there were ten recipes which Thomas referred to as cocktails (by the 1887 edition the cocktails numbered around 20+). His book was probably the first to contain actual recipes for cocktails and certainly the world’s first bartender’s guide.
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