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Flashback: That time the queen came to City Hall and triggered a mad dash for a gin and tonic

The legend of the missing bottle of booze has been told for decades.

Mayor Kevin White escorted Queen Elizabeth II through Washington Mall in Boston on the way to City Hall ceremonies as Colonel Vincent J. R. Kehoe, left, and his 10th Regiment of Foot, Chelmsford, guard the way on July 11, 1976.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/file

As City Hall readies itself for a sit-down Wednesday with the Prince and Princess of Wales, it’s no doubt that countless preparations have already been made.

But if Mayor Michelle Wu and her aides truly want to accommodate the notable guests, who will sweep through the area ahead of the Earthshot Prize awards ceremony Friday, they would do well to recall one moment in Boston’s history involving hosting members of the royal family.

It was a busy day in Boston nearly a half century ago, when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip made their royal visit to the city during the nation’s bicentennial.


Ample resources were deployed for the tour, which brought tens of thousands of people into the city to line the streets. The police, National Guard, and Secret Service staffed a parade route, US Army sent helicopters circled overhead, and a 21-gun salute from the USS Constitution was planned for the occasion.

Before a scheduled meet-and-greet at City Hall, new furniture was purchased, the building’s exterior had been laboriously cleaned, and the bathroom near then-mayor Kevin White’s fifth-floor office was scrubbed and spritzed with perfume, according to various accounts of the visit published by the Globe.

White himself had been briefed on royal etiquette, including a mandate that the back-slapping politician not physically touch the queen.

Nearly all details had been accounted for.

Except one: Stocking the queen’s favorite liquor.

According to a cautionary tale passed on through the decades, White and his team made one error when preparing for the rendezvous.

They had, aides have said, arranged for an array of fine wines to offer the royals during their luncheon with the mayor. But that wasn’t what the queen had in mind that day. When asked for her drink order, she requested a “pink gin and tonic,” former state treasurer Robert Crane once recalled.


There were two problems: No one was certain what a “pink gin and tonic” was, and there wasn’t a drop of gin on hand. (Why she would request that particular drink, and not a Dubonnet and gin, which is reportedly her cocktail of choice, is unclear).

George Regan, a local public relations maven who was a press aide at the time, said in a recent interview that he remembers being told to “Get the queen a gin and tonic.”

Eager to please, and reluctant to offend the royal visitors, a mad dash ensued.

“So, we sent a couple of cops down to Quincy Market,” Crane said in 2006 interview.

A group of uniformed police officers on motorcycles promptly tracked down the ingredients needed for the recipe at a local pub (in some tellings of the story, it was at the now-defunct Seaside Restaurant), and then raced back to City Hall to pour it over ice.

Soon after enjoying food and drinks, the royal pair was out the door, marching past “hundreds of persons lined eight-deep behind taught yellow rope,” and heading toward a ride on Old Ironsides, according to Globe reporting from the time.

All’s well that ends well.

But if Boston officials really want to provide the utmost hospitality to its royal guests this time around, they might want to ensure City Hall’s bar cart — if there is one — is fully stocked.


Spencer Buell can be reached at spencer.buell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerBuell.