Behind The Bar – Jerry Thomas: The Man Who Started It All

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Jerry Thomas was no less than a hero. It’s unfortunate that you don’t get to hear about him enough, but for those who understand and appreciate drinks, he is the father of American mixology. He’s played a pivotal role in popularizing cocktails all over America and was a trendsetter in an era where there were no trends. Here are five things you must know about arguably the first celebrated bartender of the world.

He’s a gold digger, in the true sense: He was a part of the mid-1800’s Gold Rush before he became the stud bartender that he was. He sailed to California to be a Gold Prospector while tending bar counters.

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He’s a professional: Even in the 19th century, he took an effort to learn the skills to be a great bartender and he learned them at New Haven, Connecticut. He later settled in NYC and the rest is history.

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The chain of bars: In NYC, he opened his first saloon below Barnum’s American Museum. After running this first bar, he went on the road for several years, working as the head bartender in various states – St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; San Francisco, California; and more.

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He loved his toolset: Good bartenders love their toolset and respect it. So did Jerry. At one point, when he was touring Europe, the only precious thing he carried along was a set of solid-silver bar tools.

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He was a man of theatre: He started the style of showmanship in bartending, officially. He had elaborate and flashy techniques of mixing cocktails, such as juggling bottles, cups and mixers. He often wore flashy jewellery and had his bar tools and cups embellished with precious stones and metals.

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He was valued: They say greatness doesn’t get appreciated in its time. He was an exception. At the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, Thomas was earning $100 a week—more than the Vice President of the United States used to earn at that point.

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His contributions are still invaluable: He gave us the incredible Bartender’s Guide and introduced us to his signature brew Blue Blazer. He was also the inventor of Martinez, which is the precursor to the modern Martini. He was da man!  

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