Jerry Thomas (bartender)
Thomas mixing his signature drink: The Blue Blazer
Sackets Harbor, New York, USA
|Died||December 15, 1885
New York City, New York, USA
Jeremiah (Jerry) P. Thomas (1830 – December 15, 1885) was an American bartender; because of his pioneering work in popularizing cocktails across the United States, he is considered "the father of American mixology." In addition to writing the seminal work on cocktails, his creativity and showmanship established the image of the bartender as a creative professional. As such, he was often nicknamed "Professor" Jerry Thomas.
Thomas was born in 1830 in Sackets Harbor, New York. He learned bartending in New Haven, Connecticut before sailing for California during its mid-19th century Gold Rush. While in California he worked as a bartender, gold prospector and minstrel show manager. He moved back to New York City in 1851, where he opened a saloon below Barnum's American Museum; it would be the first of four saloons he would run in New York City over his lifetime. After a time running his first bar he went on the road for several years, working as the head bartender at hotels and saloons in St. Louis, Missouri, Chicago, Illinois, San Francisco, California, Charleston, South Carolina and New Orleans, Louisiana. At one point he toured Europe, carrying along a set of solid-silver bar tools. He was well known for his showmanship as a bartender: he developed elaborate and flashy techniques of mixing cocktails, sometimes while juggling bottles, cups and mixers. He often wore flashy jewelry and had bar tools and cups embellished with precious stones and metals. At the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, Thomas was earning $100 a week—more than the Vice President of the United States.
In 1862, Thomas finished The Bar-Tender’s Guide (alternately titled How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion), the first drink book ever published in the United States. The book collected and codified what was then an oral tradition of recipes from the early days of cocktails, including some of his own creations; the guide laid down the principles for formulating mixed drinks of all categories. He would update it several times in his lifetime to include new drinks that he found or created. The first edition of the guide included the first written recipes of such cocktails as the Brandy Daisy, Fizz, Flip, Sour and variations of the earliest form of mixed drink, Punch. The 1876 edition included the first written recipe for the Tom Collins, which appeared just after The Great Tom Collins hoax of 1874.
Thomas' signature drink, the Blue Blazer, was developed at the El Dorado gambling saloon in San Francisco. The drink involves lighting whiskey afire and passing it back and forth between two mixing glasses, creating an arc of flame. Thomas continued to develop new drinks throughout his life. His development of the "Martinez", which first appeared in the 1887 edition of his guide, has sometimes been viewed as a precursor to the modern martini (though the two do not share many common traits). Thomas claimed to have invented the Tom and Jerry and did much to popularize it in the United States; however, the history of the drink predated him.
Upon returning to New York City, he became head bartender at the Metropolitan hotel before opening his most famous bar on Broadway, between 21st and 22nd Streets, in 1866. Thomas was one of the first to display the work of Thomas Nast, and in his famous saloon he hung caricatures of the political and theatrical figures; one notable drawing, now lost, was of Thomas "in nine tippling postures colossally". The saloon also included funhouse mirrors. This historic bar is currently a Restoration Hardware.
Thomas himself was an active man about town. He was a flashy dresser fond of kid gloves and a gold Parisian watch. He enjoyed going to bare-knuckle prize fights, and was an art collector. He enjoyed traveling. By middle age he was married and had two daughters. Always a good sport, he was one of the lighter members of the Fat Men’s Association at 205 pounds. He also had a side interest in gourds; at one point in the late 1870s, Thomas sat as president of The Gourd Club after producing the largest specimen.
Towards the end of his life, Thomas tried speculating on Wall Street, but bad judgments rendered him broke. He had to sell his successful saloon and auction off his considerable art collection; he tried opening a new bar but was unable to maintain the level of popularity as his more famous location. He died in New York City of apoplexy in 1885 at the age of 55. His death was marked by substantial obituaries across the United States. In their obituary, The New York Times noted Thomas was "at one time better known to club men and men about town than any other bartender in this city, and he was very popular among all classes."
- Pete Wells, Frost on the Sun: Summertime Cocktails, New York Times, June 21, 2006.
- William Grimes, The Bartender Who Started It All, New York Times, October 31, 2007.
- William Grimes, CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; Shaken, Stirred or Mixed, The Gilded Age Lives Again, New York Times, March 26, 2003.
- John Hodgman, All Shaken Up, New York Times, October 17, 2004.
- Difford, Simon (2008). Cocktails: Over 2250 Cocktails. diffordsguide. p. 351. ISBN 0-9556276-0-5. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
- Sinclair, George (March 26, 2007). "The Great Tom Collins Hoax". Scribd. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
- Walsh, William S. (1892). Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities. p. 450. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
- Recipe: Blue Blazer, New York Times, October 31, 2007.
- IN AND ABOUT THE CITY; A NOTED SALOON KEEPER DEAD., New York Times, December 16, 1885.
- The Gourd Club, New York Times, May 10, 1878.