Cocktail Kingdom Library (home)

Major Figures of Cocktail History

A portrait gallery is an old idea. The first in the United States may have been an exhibit of portraits by Charles Willson Peale of American Revolutionaries in the late 1790s. London’s National Portrait Gallery opened in 1856. In 1863, Jerry Thomas, author of the first cocktail book, attempted (and perhaps failed) to publish a “Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Bar-Keepers” featuring his own illustrations. In a similar spirit, this exhibit presents a roughly chronological gallery of many notable individuals from the history of cocktail culture.

A portrait gallery is also a problematic idea. Who is included or excluded can be political, discriminatory, or reflecting other biases, intentional or not. Presenting individuals as “important” is unavoidably reductive. The format promotes false equivalences. And of course, some sort of representative image is required, and one isn’t always available.

You can click through many of images for more details. The rest are placeholders that we will fill in over coming months with imagery, biographical background, and context.

A brief note about diversity

We are trying to prevent this presentation from just being “a bunch of dead white men”. American cocktail culture evolved within a larger cultural context, influenced by myriad developments, some of them regrettable. As you will see, women were involved from the beginning. Women remained involved and influential even as the Victorian era attempted to confine them to a strictly domestic sphere. Many of the most famous bartenders in the antebellum U.S. were slaves or former slaves. Filipino bartenders played a major role in the mid-century exotic restaurant business. Discussion over at the forum is encouraged.