7/22/08

Jerry Thomas – The Original Bartender


There are those of us out there that enjoy going to a fine restaurant or bar on occasion and having a nice cocktail or three and a bite to eat.

In fact, when sampling restaurants that I have not previously visited, I always make it a point to arrive earlier than the reservation requires so that I have time to belly-up to the bar. I want to take a few minutes to survey the premises, soak-in the atmosphere and introduce myself to that all important individual…

…the bartender.

Have you noticed how bartending is gaining in celebrity and status? It used to be the domain of the working student or aspiring actor – the position thought of as a steppingstone to a different future. This mindset is changing...

Now it seems like every third show you see on the specialty food channels has content related to mixology. Tending bar is being thought of as the basis for a career, which is certainly a good thing, as it serves to elevate the competency and creativity of those involved.

“In the beginning…”

So, who started this anyway? Who originated the art of tending bar – the show-time and the mixology?

Born in 1830 in Sackets Harbor, New York, Jeremiah P. Thomas learned his bartending craft in Connecticut and headed to California during the Gold Rush. In 1851 Jerry opened his own saloon back in New York City, but later traveled the country working in many cities including Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco and St. Louis. He became known as “The Professor” for his creativity and showmanship, essentially defining the craft of today’s bartender. His book, The Bar-Tender’s Guide (also titled How To Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion) was first published in 1862 and followed by several updates. Jerry Thomas, today thought of as the “father of American mixology”, passed away in 1885.

So the next time you see an entertaining bartender or receive that tasty cocktail, be sure to tip well, and then thank Jerry Thomas for making it all happen…

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