Friday, July 24, 2009

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Bookshelf: Cocktail Boothby Hits the Shelves (Again)

Before going to press the manuscript of this little encyclopedia was submitted to many first-class bartenders, successful saloon-keepers, famous connoisseurs and well-known clubmen from all parts of the globe for their approval and endorsement, one and all of whom have unhesitatingly declared it to be “The Dope.”

~ Hon Wm. T (Cocktail) Boothby
The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them (1908)

It’s time to drop the old chestnut about the scarcity of William Boothby’s bartender’s guides. While that was true a year ago, “Cocktail” Bill Boothby, dead these almost 80 years, is enjoying a new life through the publishing efforts of Fritz Maytag and Greg Boehm.

Boothby was a bartender, author, and California assemblyman who plied his trade in San Francisco before Prohibition. That he worked the stick in New Orleans, New York, Kansas City, Chicago, and Philadelphia before returning to California is irrelevant: San Francisco claims him as her native son.

Cocktail historian David Wondrich says of Boothby "If one had to pick a single name to stand as dean to the whole tribe of San Francisco bartenders, it would be the Honorable William T. Boothby, head bartender at the Palace Hotel and author of one of the most useful bartender's guides of the golden age of American drinking.”

Until this year, getting your hands on a copy of one of those bartender’s guides was an iffy endeavor. But if your tastes lean toward antiquarian books without a matching antiquarian book-buyers’ budget, you’re in luck.

Anchor Brewing Company has reprinted Boothby’s 1891 manual, Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender, in a handsome new paperback edition with a new 12-page forward by Fritz Maytag and David Burkhart who dive into historical and news archives for details about the man and his times. From a later edition of the book, they introduce Boothby’s own Boothby Cocktail, essentially a Manhattan cocktail with a champagne float:

The Boothby Cocktail

2/3 jigger Whiskey
1/3 jigger Italian Vermouth
2 dashes Orange bitters
2 drops Angostura bitters

Stir well with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, add Maraschino cherry, float on one spoon of champagne and serve.

Particularly fascinating for me (yes, I admit, I have spent parts of more than one summer vacation in archives working on my librarian’s tan) are reproductions of 16 handwritten pages of recipes from the collection of John C. Burton. The pages were found tipped into a 1900 edition of the book and include such drinks as the Vampire Cocktail, the Pineapple Bronx, and the Brandy Daisy.

Not to be outdone by the historical addenda in Anchor’s California edition, Mud Puddle Books in New York has issued a damn-near perfect reproduction of Boothby’s 1908 The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them. The hand of John Burton is apparent here, too, in his introductory essay giving a succinct biography of William Boothby.

Mud Puddle’s Greg Boehm has made quite a name for himself reprinting old cocktail manuals that aren’t just facsimiles—from the paper to the fonts to the binding, boards, and endpapers, his reproduction books look and feel as the originals did when they were published sometimes more than a century ago. Like any ethical publisher, Mud Puddle makes sure the books are clearly modern works. Each, for instance, has an introduction explaining its relevance by modern drinks historians such as David Wondrich or Robert Hess.

For a look into California bartending as it was done a hundred years ago, do yourself a favor and check out Boothby’s work. Whether you want to plunk down the cash for an original is up to you, but in the meanwhile, consider grabbing both Mud Puddle’s and Anchor’s editions. Despite the great deal of overlap in the books, I got both and will be mixing drinks from them for years to come.

William Thomas Boothby (1891)
Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender
152 pages, paperback
2009 reprint by Anchor Brewing Co.
ISBN 978-9822473-4
Buy it here.

Hon Wm T. Boothby (1908)
The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them
143 pages, paperback
2009 reprint by Mud Puddle Books
ISBN 978-1-60311-189-8
Buy it here.



Brooks said...


Along these lines, I just finished reading "Harry Johnson's New and Improved Bartenders Manual and a Guide for Restaurants and Hotels."

It's amazing how some things in the service industry don't change. Fascinating bits of advice in that book that hold true today just as they did 100 years ago (though, I'm glad I don't have to follow the spittoon cleaning tips-yikes that must have been gross.)

Thanks for the read, bub.

Matthew Rowley said...

Brooks ~

Glad you liked it. Harry Johnson's one I keep coming back to. The Mud Puddle edition is a good pocket-sized version to have around the house. Or behind the bar.

As for cleaning the spittoons, I'm pretty sure high-end bartenders weren't doing that themselves. This is what they had "boys" for (if "boy" is what you can call an 8-year-old barback).

AlchemistGeorge said...

I love buying (and reading) these vintage books, and one thing I'd like to see in reviews of the books is how much 'non-recipe' content of what sort they offer, and which are just a collection of recipes ("wad-o-drinks" book).

Aside from that, buy these reprints as fast as you can afford them, lets keep these folks afloat and publishing!

Anonymous said...

How much do you think the original ones go for out of curiosity? I think I might have one.

Matthew Rowley said...

Ah, antiquarian book pricing is a weird thing. At the end of the day, a book is worth whatever price a buyer will pay for it and a seller will agree to part with it. More concrete variables include publication date, condition, edition, whether it's been restored (if, if so, how well), provenance, inscriptions, autographs, rarity, etc.

Having said that, I've seen original copies in good condition sell in recent years anywhere from $30 (a good deal) to nearly $500 (an outrageous sum). The bulk of old copies seem to be running a shade north of $200 these days. That's more than it's worth, but if you can get it, God bless you.