In 2012, Toby Cecchini, who had just opened Long Island Bar, told The New York Times how poorly The Boulevardier was selling at the premise. Fast forward two years later, and patriots could not get enough of the cocktail as it acquired fame across the United States. In San Francisco, nearly every bar thought The Boulevardier was the dealer’s choice. Such a reputation makes you wonder what is so special about the cocktail. It only comprises three ingredients, but its invention and naming make for a great story detailed below.
More about Its Founder
There is not much you will find on Erskine Gwynne, the man who is said to have invented the cocktail. There is not even a Wikipedia page bit Louise Brooks Society dug around and found out more about Gwynne. He came from a wealthy family as per an article titled “Who’s Who Abroad.” As a member of the Vanderbilt family, Gwynne was brought up with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he always wanted to prove he was cut from a different cloth in the sense that he was not ready to sit back and bask in the rays of a luxurious life. Therefore, since he was too young to enlist in the army, he decided to do his part by enlisting in a French ammunition factory. Once he came of age, he immediately enlisted in the US Army and was lucky to get out alive since his twin brother Edward also enlisted but died. Perhaps Gwynne saw that he was being given a second chance at life thus once he got out of the army participated in the less risky venture of exporting and importing. It was not a prosperous venture, so he went to New York ready to take on any job he could find, but it was another exercise in futility. He finally landed a job as a reporter in San Francisco. As a man who dared to follow his heart, journalism soon became boring for Gwynne, and he took off to spend some time in oil tankers in the sea. He became a cabin boy but returned to his calling in journalism. He never took himself too seriously and at 24, preferred writing the gossip column for American newspapers. Since he was bilingual, he also wrote in French for French magazines. However, his editors preferred that he write serious copy for the magazines. Unfortunately, Gwynne, who had already been nicknamed “the Playboy of Paris,” was not ready to surrender to their demands. Therefore, he sought to be his own boss and launched The Boulevardier. It was a monthly magazine devoted to exposing the lighter side of Paris, but the gossip that Gwynne dished out had to be moderated.
The Invention of the Drink
In January 1920, the United States of America implemented a nationwide ban on alcohol production, importation, and transportation. The national prohibition lasted until 1933 and was undertaken as a noble experiment to reduce crime, tax burden by prisons, and social problems. The ban led to many bar owners and bartenders leaving the Unites States in favor of more accommodating countries such as France. Therefore, according to Old Liquors Magazine, France became the destination of many bar owners such as Tod Sloan. He once owned a bar in Manhattan but demolished it and sent the pieces over to Paris to rebuild it piece by piece. He appropriately named in The New York Bar so that ex-patriots would feel at home, away from home.
Harry McElhone, one of Sloan’s bartenders, bought the place from Sloan in 1923 and renamed it Harry’s New York Bar. Of course, the best place for a reporter to collect the hottest gossip in town is in a bar since alcohol acts like truth serum. Therefore, reporters and authors went to Harry’s New York Bar to enjoy a cold drink, and among them was Gwynne. Gwynne must have become a frequent visitor; when McElhone published a recipe book, he paid tribute to the reporter. According to Chilled magazine, the bartender mentions that Gwynne crashed the party with his Boulevardier cocktail. For this reason, it is believed that McElhone did not invent the drink, Gwynne did. The name of the cocktail is from the fact The Boulevardier was what Gwynne was associated with, and he was a patriot. McElhone acknowledged the customer who asked for the drink so much that it was added to the menu and named after Gwynne’s magazine. McElhone even published the recipe of The Boulevardier Cocktail as specified by Gwynne: 1/3 Bourbon whisky, 1/3 Italian vermouth, and 1/3 Campari.
The Boulevardier’s Variations
According to The Drink Nation, the simplicity and taste of the Boulevardier cocktail are what made it a classic lasting through the years. The fact that it was published by the owner of a renowned pub makes it even more special. Getting the hard copy of the recipe collection that McElhone published in 1927 will set you back between $2,000 and $7,500. Although in the recipe only three ingredients are mentioned, it seems that one ingredient was left out. The water in the cracked ice the cocktail should be served with plays a part in enhancing the drink’s flavors. As the article explains, once you shake the glass, the cracked ice melts and seeps into alcohol, watering it down and making it much gentler. The ice as observed by those who enjoy the cocktail helps to tame the bitterness of the Campari which tends to increase once it warms up. All the same, the recipe is not set in stone and you can switch it up to your preference; after all, the main aim is to enjoy what you are drinking. Some even claim the only reason Gwynne preferred the specific combination was because of the ban which limited the variety available. After seven years of being under prohibition, McElhone had to use whatever he had stocked before production was banned.
Written by Lily Wordsmith
Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith