Ivy Mix

The 15 Most Influential Bartenders of the Last Century

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When you’re at your favorite cocktail bar, sipping on a perfectly crafted Manhattan, it may not occur to you just how many people you have to thank for that drink. While most classic cocktails can be traced back to Jerry Thomas, the ur-American bartender, and his seminal recipe book The Bon Vivant’s Companion, there have been many pioneering figures that have shaped our drinking culture in the last century. Here are 15 of the most influential bartenders that shaped the way we drink today.

Jerry Thomas

Not only was Jerry Thomas one of the most famous and well paid American bartenders in the mid-1800s (at $100 a week, his salary was more than that of the vice president), he is also considered the father of modern mixology.

Why He’s Important:
Mr. Thomas wrote the first official cocktail book in history: 1862’s How to Mix Drinks (aka The Bon Vivant's Companion). Without his tome, we would not have many of the original classic cocktail recipes, including the Smash, the Cobbler, Sours or the Tom Collins. Thomas also pioneered flair bartending. He was known for his flashy bar equipment and ornate jewelry, and would juggle bottles and tins. Without his penchant for formal wear and excess, the immaculately dressed, vested bartender may have never existed.

Charles H. Baker

While not a bartender per se, Charles H. Baker was one of the first and most grandiose food and cocktail writers of the last century. On his travels, he collected some of the most influential cocktail recipes from around the world.

Why He’s Important:
At the height of his career, Baker wrote columns for Esquire, Town & Country and Gourmet. In 1939, he published a two-volume collection of his writings titled The Gentleman's Companion. Volume One pertained to “exotic cookery” while Volume Two was a collection of his cocktail prose and recipes titled the Exotic Drinking Book. In 1951, Baker published The South American Gentleman's Companion, a poetic travelogue chronicling the author’s drinking journeys through the South American continent. Without Baker, we wouldn’t have his creative waxings about cocktails, the authors inspired by them or classic cocktails such as the Colonial Cooler, the Remember the Maine, and the Jimmie Roosevelt—a mixture of Champagne, Cognac, and Chartreuse that’s a staple on the cocktail menu at the Pegu Club in New York (more on that later).

Ada Coleman

Ada Coleman was one of only two female head bartenders at the Savoy American Bar in London, a position which she held for 23 years (from 1903-1926).

Why She’s Important:
One of the premiere mixologists in London at the turn of the century, Coleman is best known for her Hanky Panky cocktail, which she created for actor Sir Charles Hawtrey. It’s one of the first documented cocktails to use the bracingly bitter amaro, Fernet Branca, as a main ingredient. Coleman also trained her successor, Harry Craddock (see below) who, in turn, immortalized many of her signature cocktail recipes (including the Hanky Panky) in his book.

Harry Craddock

Harry Craddock was a British bartender that headed the Savoy American Bar in London from 1926 to 1934 after doing a stint behind the stick in America.

Why He’s Important:
Craddock revolutionized the cocktail scene in London with an ingredient he found in American bars: Ice. As a bartender, Craddock singlehandedly made the the Savoy American Bar the number one cocktail destination for London high society. While behind the stick, he served royalty, Winston Churchill and countless celebrities, debutantes and movie stars. In 1930, he published The Savoy Cocktail Book, which would become his greatest legacy and contribution to modern day cocktailing. With over 700 recipes, the book is one of the greatest cocktail tomes ever written. Without it, we wouldn’t have the Corpse Reviver cocktails, the definitive Dry Martini or, his signature drink, The White Lady.

Ernest “Donn the Beachcomber” Gantt

Donn Beach, nee Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, is an American bartender and the father of all things tiki.

Why He’s Important:
In 1934, Ernest Gantt launched The Beachcomber in Los Angeles, a 24-seat cocktail lounge inspired by the auteur’s island hopping adventures. On the menu, Gantt featured signature concoctions unlike any others. His layered, multi-ingredient cocktails called for fresh juices, homemade syrups and rums. Wildly successful, the bar was nationalized by the end of World War II, not only kickstarting the tiki movement, but an entire subculture of dress, cuisine and cocktailing. Some of Beach’s most famous libations that live on today include the Zombie, the Pearl Diver and the Three Dots and a Dash.

Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron

An influential American bartender that rose to tiki infamy on the coattails of Donn the Beachcomber. Like Beach, Vic had a nationalized tiki bar and restaurant chain from the 1930s to the ‘50s during the golden era of tiki.

Why He’s Important:
While many tikiphiles argue over which cocktails Bergeron lifted from his competitor, Beach, one thing is for certain: Trader Vic and his cocktail legacy are integral to the evolution of tiki. Credited with one of the greatest cocktails known to man, the Mai Tai, and one of the booziest cocktails of all time, the party-sized Scorpion Bowl, Victor Bergeron also compiled one of the first official tiki tomes in 1946, Trader Vic's Book of Food and Drink.

Dale DeGroff

Also known as King Cocktail, Dale DeGroff is an American mixologist and author who rose to prominence in the late ‘80s at the Rainbow Room in New York’s Rockefeller Center.

Why He’s Important:
An actor-turned-barman, Dale DeGroff’s inspiration came from Jerry Thomas’s book, A Bartender’s Guide. In an age when sour mix and artificial ingredients reigned supreme, DeGroff used his position at the Rainbow Room to restore the classic cocktail to its rightful state. His method was simple but revolutionary at the time: He taught himself and his staff traditional cocktail techniques and used high quality spirits and fresh juices and ingredients behind the bar. Since his rise to fame, DeGroff has published two books, including the modern classic, The Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Master Bartender, and created some seriously delicious pimento bitters.
 

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David Wondrich

A Jedi-level cocktail nerd and author specializing in obscure cocktail history and modern spirits.

Why He’s Important:
Wondrich’s first book, Imbibe!, helped renew interest in Jerry Thomas, earned a place on every cocktail obsessive’s bookshelf and ultimately earned Wondrich a James Beard Award in 2007. It was the first time a cocktail book had ever won the prestigious award. With his second book Punch, Wondrich singlehandedly restored America’s faith in the bygone drink of our founding fathers.

Sasha Petraske

An American mixologist that founded and helmed the infamous New York City cocktail bar, Milk & Honey.

Why He’s Important:
When Petraske opened Milk & Honey in 1999 he was, unknowingly, continuing in the footsteps of Dale DeGroff and revolutionizing modern mixology. He stressed the importance of hospitality and service, and insisted his staff use jiggers. He formulated cocktail recipes with precise measurements that could easily be replicated. With his menus, Petraske’s pioneered the “less is more” philosophy of drinks—the majority of his cocktails featured just three ingredients. But the true sign of his lasting influence lies in his original staff, many of whom have gone on to start their own industry-changing endeavors.

Audrey Saunders

An American mixologist whose pioneering cocktail lounge, The Pegu Club, was a catalyst for the cocktail revolution of the early aughts in New York.

Why She’s Important:
As an apprentice of Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders is a classic cocktail purist. After a stint as the head bartender at the celebrated Bemelmans Bar inside the Carlyle Hotel, she opened up her own cocktail lounge, The Pegu Club. At her bar, Saunders took Milk & Honey’s dedication to craft and quality and made it accessible to the masses. Dedicating her career to rescuing classic cocktails from obscurity—including many of Charles H. Baker’s tipples and the Pegu Club cocktail (for which her bar is named)—Saunders’s bar has become one of the top cocktail destinations in the world.

Julie Reiner

A New York bartender known for two of the city’s best cocktail bars, The Flatiron Lounge and The Clover Club.

Why She’s Important:
Like Saunders, Reiner was an apprentice of Dale DeGroff and continues his legacy. After managing the bar program at the Flatiron Lounge, Reiner helped Saunders start the Pegu Club. From there, she opened the Clover Club in Brooklyn where she has gone on to develop her signature take on the classics, using superior spirits and market-fresh ingredients. Known for its extravagantly dense, almost encyclopedic menu of classic cocktails, the Clover Club was one of the first cocktail bars to bring back bygone punches. In 2015, Reiner published her first book, The Craft Cocktail Party: Delicious Drinks for Every Occasion, an elegant, modern classic that features her interpretations on the classics and recipes from her bar.

Jim Meehan

Jim Meehan is a bartender, the owner of the revolutionary, secret cocktail lounge Please Don’t Tell (PDT) in New York, and the author of modern cocktail tomes The PDT Cocktail Book and Meehan’s Bartender Manual.

Why He’s Important
After arriving in New York in 2001, Meehan honed his skills behind the stick at some of the bars leading the city’s burgeoning craft cocktail scene, including Gramercy Tavern and Audrey Saunder’s Pegu Club. In 2007, he opened Please Don’t Tell, an East Village Speakeasy hidden behind a phone booth in Crif Dogs hot dog parlour. It helped kick off NYC’s speakeasy obsession, which still continues to this day. After winning a James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program, Meehan published The PDT Cocktail Book, one of the most influential, original cocktail tomes of the last century. After his massive NYC success, Meehan moved to Portland, Oregon where he opened a bartending consulting firm, Mixography Inc. He’s served as an advisor for spirit brands like Banks Rum, worked with Moore & Giles to design bespoke bartender-focused accessories and even developed a line of Bloody Mary spices with spice legend Lior Lev. Meehan’s upcoming book, Meehan’s Bartender Manual, is an all-encompassing guide to the ins and outs of the bar industry with over 100 classic and original cocktail recipes.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler

An American bartender and author known for the Portland cocktail lounge and restaurant, Clyde Common.

Why He’s Important:
Morgenthaler was a pioneer in the early aughts who helped bring the cocktail renaissance to the West Coast. Besides tweaking classic cocktails and using good quality fresh ingredients, Morgenthaler incorporated advanced techniques into his bar program that hadn’t been seen before: He barrel-aged his Negroni and offered pre-batched, bottled cocktails. In 2014, he published The Bar Book, a deep dive into mastering techniques behind the bar. The book was revolutionary in that its focus wasn’t on recipes, but on essential skills.

Dave Arnold

A chef, scientist, bartender and author who is the former head of the Culinary Technology Department at the French Culinary Institute in New York, and one of the founders of Booker and Dax (a cocktail bar and food and beverage lab).

Why He’s Important:
There has never been a bar like Booker and Dax. Opened in 2011 by Arnold and Momofuku chef David Chang, the cocktail bar used high-tech culinary equipment and lab machinery to create revolutionary cocktails. In the basement of the bar, Arnold used centrifuges to clarify juices, CO2 tanks to carbonate cocktails and, most famously, liquid nitrogen to do everything from chill cocktail glasses to muddle mint. In 2014, Arnold published Liquid Intelligence, a tell-all book that included secrets to replicating his techniques at home. Though Booker and Dax is currently closed—for the moment at least—Arnold is far from off the clock. He heads the Booker and Dax company and lab, which develops products like the BDX Cocktail Cube, and is the founder and president of MOFAD, Brooklyn’s Museum of Food and Drink.

Ivy Mix

An American bartender known for her Brooklyn bar Leyenda and the Speed Rack competition.

Why She’s Important:
After apprenticing with Julie Reiner at The Clover Club, Mix and Reiner opened Leyenda; a Brooklyn bar that focused on Mix’s passion for unique Mexican and South American spirits. While the bar has been given many awards since opening in 2015 (including best bar in the United States), Mix is most known for founding the wildly popular do-good cocktail competition, Speed Rack. In 2011 Mix and Lynnette Marrero, the president of the NY chapter of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails), launched the all-female speed bartending competition to raise money for breast cancer research, education and prevention. Since its inception, Speed Rack has gone on to become a nationwide competition, with all proceeds donated to charity.

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