Unless you’ve been living off the grid the past five days, it’s been pretty difficult to miss that #NegroniWeek (a national charity event co-sponsored by Imbibe and Campari) is currently underway in booze world.
While the Negroni’s ruby red combination of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth has spent a good deal of time in the spotlight lately and proven to be a go-to summertime sipper for the entertaining masses, sometimes a basically-constructed Negroni can, well, lack a little bit of depth. The gin is punchy and crisp, but what if you want something more substantial paired alongside a twosome as hefty as an apertif and fortified wine?
If you’re looking for a cocktail that has all the bitter bite of a Negroni (and is just as simple to whip up at home) with a richness and weight that’s unmatched, the Boulevardier—which swaps out bourbon for gin—might just be your new favorite cocktail.
It’s the kissing cousin of both the Negroni and the Manhattan with a jewel-toned hue that feels almost regal—what’s not to love?
The Boulevardier is notoriously my go-to cocktail of choice in a pinch, so I might be a little biased. I’ve ordered them across the world (the best iteration I’ve encountered is served at The Lobster Bar in Hong Kong) and feverishly encourage others to do the same. There’s rarely a time it doesn’t easily win someone over.
I’m hoping beyond hope that you’re next on my list of converts.
While the drink’s origin story (and whether or not it predated the Negroni) is rooted more firmly in lore than concrete fact, it’s generally agreed upon that the drink was invented by either writer and expat Erskinne Gwynne (who operated a New Yorker-style magazine under the name Boulevardier) or Harry McElhone (the founder a of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris) in the 1920s. McElhone first committed the drink to paper in a passing glance as part of his 1927 book, Barflies and Cocktails, but it’s likely Gwynne who was its brainchild.
Since then, it remained largely dormant on cocktail menus until the past 5 years, when a small (but mighty) resurgence has been underway.
In 2011, legendary bartender (and co-owner of The Long Island Bar) Toby Cecchini lamented that more people weren’t familiar with the drink in T: The New York Times Magazine. “I’m puzzled that the Boulevardier cocktail hasn’t found wider fame in the current fast-moving mixology environment,” wrote Cecchini. “The Boulevardier is a marvel of a cocktail with an enviably colorful peerage, and it’s effectively the bastard child of those two other cocktails [the Negroni and the Manhattan] I mentioned.”
Cecchini placed a particularly smooth version of the drink on his menu at Long Island Bar, and the Boulevardier has been popping up with greater frequency both across New York and the country ever since. A bar and bistro in Dallas named after the drink launched in 2012, and I get far fewer head scatches these days when asking for a Boulevardier at cocktail bars than I did even a year ago.
The drink has also found its way into creative streams of mass production, including a barrel-aged and bottled version from High West Distillery in Utah.
Photo: My Bottle Shop
“[The reason we made it is] pretty simple really,” High West proprietor David Perkins tells First We Feast. “We liked the barrel-aged Manhattan so much that we wanted to do another barrel-aged cocktail. The Boulevardier was the best choice as it was whiskey-based, we already had vermouth, [and] we love the bitter taste in the summer. It’s a great cocktail. The only think we had to do was locate an amaro. We were lucky to get the Gran Classico.”
In New Orleans (and dangerously close to my house), a new restaurant called Primitivo from celebrated Chef Aldolfo Garcia has the Boulevardier on tap. The cocktail sits for 48 hours before serving, allowing the flavors to deepen and marry. “We chose it because it’s all alcohol and wouldn’t go bad,” said Primitivo’s Ron Copeland. “The street we’re on was also called ‘the boulevard’ a lot, so we thought it was fitting.”
If you’re looking for a jumping off point, make this your Friday afternoon cocktail, stat.
1.5 oz Bourbon (or Rye)
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Campari
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass, garnish with a twist of orange, and serve.