Smoky, strong, and bittersweet, the Boulevardier is probably the best cocktail to cozy up to on a chilly night.
This mysterious drink, whose name loosely translated means “a wealthy, fashionable socialite,” is a subtle combination of bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Campari that mixes impressively yet, it’s a breeze to prepare.
Sometimes mistakenly called a whiskey Negroni, the Boulevardier is actually believed to predate the Negroni. According to Dave Karraker, director of public relations for Campari America, it maintains the bittersweet character of the Negroni but isn’t as embracing. “The Boulevardier has a deeper, smoother flavor than a Negroni thanks to the aged whiskey, which replaces the gin in the classic recipe,” he said.
Dating back to 1927, the Boulevardier is credited to Harry McElhone, the founder, and proprietor of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. As one of many bartenders whose careers were cut short by Prohibition, McElhone escaped the U.S. to settle in Europe. There he combined U.S. cocktailing techniques with spirits, such as Campari, that you’d never come across in the States back then.
Although the Boulevardier recipe is not mentioned in McElhone’s book, “Barflies and Cocktails” which is packed with 300 cocktail recipes, the sophisticated cocktail is mentioned briefly in a small paragraph where he cites, “Now is the time for all good barflies to come to the aid of the party since Erskine Gwynne crashed in with his Boulevardier Cocktail: 1/3 Bourbon whisky, 1/3 Campari, 1/3 Italian vermouth.”
The fact that the cocktail wasn’t included in his book could be because McElhone seemed to defer to Gwynne, a wealthy young American in Paris starting a literary magazine, as the actual inventor of the drink. His magazine, modeled after The New Yorker, was called The Boulevardier, and it was advertised on a full page in the back of “Barflies and Cocktails.” Although it’s not clear if the magazine had any sort of lasting impact on the world of literature, the fantastic drink Gwynne shared with McElhone went on to be quite successful.
Like many classics, the Boulevardier is flexible and allows you to play with the formula to suit your taste. Although the most common theory is that the cocktail is a variation of the Negroni, Karraker said you could get good results by experimenting with the classic recipe to create variations.
“You can change out the whiskey to create unique tastes, using bourbon, rye, or Canadian whiskey,” he said. He also suggested exploring the use of dry vermouth rather than the traditional sweet, red vermouth. There seems to be no wrong here because no matter what kind of Boulevardier-type you shake up, anyone is sure to please.
“With my job, I drink a lot of Negronis, but I like to mix it up with a Boulevardier pretty regularly. I like the deep toasted caramel notes a bourbon can bring to the drink.”
– Harry McElhone
- 1 1/2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
- 1 oz. Campari
- 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
Preparation: Stir long and well with ice in a mixing glass and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange slice, lemon twist, or cherry.