If you’ve been to a cocktail bar at any point between the beginning of the George W. Bush administration and the first time you heard “COVID-19″ uttered by a news anchorperson, you’ve probably seen a Boulevardier on the drink list. This vintage recipe underwent a great rebirth when the classic cocktail renaissance was in full swing a decade-ish ago. It’s been traced back to 1927, when it appeared as a promise “to make that tired feeling disappear” in the playful epilogue of the otherwise rather scholarly “Barflies and Cocktails.” The recipe tome compiled by Harry McElhone, founder and proprietor of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, credits the drink to Erskine Gwynne, a familiar figure in Paris’s café society and American who founded a literary magazine called The Boulevardier to chronicle his escapades among the city’s socialites and gadabouts.
If, by chance, you ever asked the bartender about the Boulevardier, she probably described it as a variation on the Negroni. This is true, but as far as truths go, you could do much better. (That the Boulevardier likely predated the Negroni is a mere technicality. Musings of a philosophical nature render linear time a footnote.) With gin swapped out for bourbon — or for rye if you prefer a kick of peppery spice — the Boulevardier is as much a riff on the standard Negroni recipe as Jimi Hendrix’s recording of “All Along the Watchtower” is a spin on Bob Dylan’s song, or Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” is a variation on Dolly Parton’s original. All that’s to say: while familiar, it’s entirely its own species. If a Negroni is all piney brightness, bracing bitters and citrus-forward refreshment, the Boulevardier offers brawn, roundedness, and warming spice, like an American outlaw kicking through snow at an Italian alpine lodge.
Its richness belies its simplicity and its unassuming message: You don’t need frills and whizz-bang accessories, like garlands of cloves, capricious pumpkin-spice flavorings or a bunch of cinnamon sticks, to prepare for winter. A time-tested formula can make that tired feeling disappear.
Makes 1 drink
2 ounces bourbon (or rye whiskey)
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Strip of lemon zest, for garnish
1. Fill a mixing glass with ice. Pour ingredients over ice stir for 10 seconds.
2. Strain into a martini glass, or over fresh ice in a rocks glass.
3. Twist citrus peel over the drink to express the oils, then use as garnish.
Liza Weisstuch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @livingtheproof.