Food

Anatomy of a Classic Cocktail: The Boulevardier

A rich mix of whiskey, Campari, and sweet vermouth, this cozy cousin to the negroni was brought to life by an American in Paris
BY Kevin Revolinski TIMENovember 23, 2022 PRINT

I’m not one to deny the ambition of extending summer with breezy tropical cocktails in December, but I do embrace Old Man Winter with a glass of something hardier yet complex enough to sip and ponder by the hearth. For this, the near-century-old boulevardier suits the occasion.

The cocktail in print dates back to 1927, when it appeared in the book “Barflies and Cocktails” by Scottish American expat Harry MacElhone. But within, it’s credited to Erskine Gwynne, connected to the wealthy Vanderbilt family by his great-aunt Alice Gwynne, who had married Cornelius Vanderbilt II.

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A whiskey base adds warmth, a bit of sweetness, and heft. (conzorb/Shutterstock)

Gwynne, who was an American born in Paris, didn’t just ride on his social standing; he served in World War I when he came of age and took a few tough jobs before settling into some light, gossip-style journalism. He gained a reputation as a socialite and founded a magazine called The Boulevardier. The word itself means a frequenter of boulevards, as in “a man about town.”

He found his way to the New York Bar, which had been opened by an American bar owner who had fled Prohibition and reopened his establishment in Paris. MacElhone worked as the bartender there, but in 1923, he took over the business. MacElhone’s nod to Gwynne in the book confirms the drink’s origin, as does perhaps the name of Gwynne’s magazine.

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Cocchi Vermouth from Torino is a nice choice for its herbal elements. (barinart/Shutterstock)

Gwynne could’ve called his drink “An American in Europe,” with New World whiskey meeting Old World spirits: sweet vermouth and bittersweet Campari from Italy. The recipe is basically a negroni—which is built with gin instead of whiskey—but with bolder flavor.

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Pour over a large ice cube to maintain the drink’s chill. (Maksym Fesenko/Shutterstock)

My preference for the whiskey is the spiciness of rye over the sweetness of bourbon, and rather than mixing in three equal proportions as is done with the negroni, it’s advisable to bump the whiskey up a half portion (or even a full one). Cocchi Vermouth from Torino works well, the herbal elements being as important here as the sweetness. In any case, get something nice.

Boulevardier

  • 1 1/2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce vermouth
  • Orange zest twist

In a mixing glass, add the ingredients over ice and stir to chill (don’t shake). Pour into an old-fashioned glass over a large piece of ice, to maintain the chill without watering it down too quickly as you sit by the fireplace on a cold winter’s night. Garnish with a twist of orange zest.

Kevin Revolinski is an avid traveler, craft beer enthusiast, and home-cooking fan. He is the author of 15 books, including “The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey” and his new collection of short stories, “Stealing Away.” He’s based in Madison, Wis., and his website is TheMadTraveler.com
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