On May 10, bartenders from around the country will be at the Howard Theatre for D.C. Toasts: A Tribute to the Black Mixology Club. They will celebrate the forgotten stories of Washington's African American bartenders, recreating famous cocktails while getting down to the Chuck Brown Band.
I wrote about the celebration in today's Weekend section, but wanted to share some additional material that couldn't make it into the story.
"The art of mixing liquors has come to be a highly respectable and profitable calling and men of excellent repute are found in its ranks. To protect the better grade of workmen from the shiftless and unreliable and to stimulate a broader spirit of fraternity, an organization was found necessary. In response to this plain necessity, there sprang up the Mixologist Club, and at once its roll began to scintillate with the stars of the restaurant world, and all of the solid young men of the craft rallied under its banner."
This is how the Colored American, a weekly Washington newspaper, introduced the Mixologist Club to its readers in November 1900. The club, which had then been in existence for two years, and was planning to hold its second annual ball at the now-demolished Grand Army Hall.
While doing research for this column, I got to leaf through a lot of old stories about turn-of-the-century Washington bars, from pieces on the Mixologist Club to the Washington Post's 1888 obituary of Dick Francis, a who was a bartender at a popular Pennsylvania Avenue saloon called Hancock's for more than three decades before some regulars – who happened to be U.S. senators – appointed him to run the bar in the U.S. Senate's restaurant. (The obituary notes the Francis made drinks and conversation with Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, among other famous statesmen and "with all of them, Francis was a person of consequence.")
A vivid description of Hancock's, taken from a Washington Post story when the building was torn down in 1931, explains its popularity:
"The 'Hell and Blazes' cocktails served in glasses frosted with sugar, the julips in the mint season, hot toddies and 'buttered rum' with scores of other mixtures at all seasons were what the visitors craved. In no other place in the country was the art of mixture so thoroughly developed as it was by the colored artists who served behind Hancock's bar."
It seemed a shame to let so many fascinating stories hide in the archives of the Washington Post or the Library of Congress, which holds digitized copies of the Colored American on its site, so I thought we should share PDFs of three of them.
One addition to this story: After deadline, we found out that the D'Usse Tom Bullock Award for Distinguished Service, a public service award named after the first African American to write a cocktail guide, will be presented to Ann Tuennerman, the founder of the annual Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans. She will receive the award from Darryl Bullock, the grand-nephew of Tom Bullock.
I'll leave this with another paragraph from the Colored American:
"There is no reason why the Mixologist Club should not grow in strength and influence as the years go by, nor is there any good reason why Washington may not eventually take her place in the heights of club life beside New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, and extend the hospitality and cheer for which she is so well adapted by reason of the finances and elegant leisure of her citizens. The famous Mixologists have opened the way in magnificent style."