Serious Eats: Drinks

How Old Mr. Boston Got His Groove Back

20090325-mrboston.jpgIn the April issue of Saveur, the editors write that the growing interest in well-honed cocktails has created a demand for classic bar manuals. In a piece titled "The Cocktail Chronicles" (hmmm, that sounds familiar...), Saveur's editors note that this demand for rich sources of creative drink recipes has even affected that old, dusty standard found in every rec-room home bar: the Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide.

Mr. Boston's familiar red-covered bar guides have been in circulation since 1935, and flipping through the pages of the old 1930s and '40s editions is a trip through the past. My 1946 edition has a color insert featuring 12 of the drinks that ruled the era, including the Manhattan, the Tom Collins, the Sloe Gin Fizz and the Whiskey Sour, most calling for bottles from the Old Mr. Boston line of spirits. By the '60s and '70s, though, Mr. Boston was showing his age, and until recently the bar guide had come to be defined by musty concoctions that were down-at-heel, and by of-the-moment drinks along the lines of the Fuzzy Navel and the Slippery Nipple. Not quite venerable, Old Mr. Boston just seemed decrepit.

A few years ago, however, the publishers of this popular book surveyed the current cocktail landscape, and sought to revitalize the volume. Bringing in mixological authorities such as journalist and wine educator Anthony Giglio and PDT bar manager Jim Meehan, along with a group of experts ranging from Robert Hess to legendary bartender Dale DeGroff, Mr. Boston's publishers reenergized the 73-year-old guide and released the updated volume late last year. No longer filled with drinks calling for Old Mr. Boston Mint-flavored Gin, the new Mr. Boston features contemporary cocktails such as the Final Ward, devised by Death & Co. bar manager Philip Ward, and once-lost classics that are enjoying a renaissance such as the whiskey-fuelled Cocktail a la Louisiane.

Now that Mr. Boston is onboard with the cocktail renaissance and Rachel Maddow is mixing up Bijous on late-night network TV, will it soon be easier to get a decent cocktail in most bars? Time to start finding out.

About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.

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