Black history has been intertwined with mixology since before it was considered a profession. From the earliest colonial American records, black Americans served in barrooms and taverns, though it is unlikely that they had much say in the matter at that time. Whilst the nature of slavery darkens this time in cocktail history, we have much to be thankful for where the innovation of these early pioneers is concerned. February has been set aside to honor Black Americans, and their profound success in the face of adversity. In today’s blog, I hope to accomplish just that.
Tom Bullock was the son of freed slaves from Kentucky. From the earliest historical record of him, he made waves in St. Louis cocktail culture, creating innovative and ahead-of-their-time cocktails. His most remarkable and generous achievement, though, was the publication of “The Ideal Bartender” in 1917. This legendary book details the recipes Bullock created while working at the venerated Pendennis Club in Louisville, among others. Bullock served the aristocracy of his time, including George H.W. Bush’s grandfather, George Herbert Walker. Walker went on to pen the forward for “The Ideal Bartender”, in homage to Bullock’s mastery of his craft.
Dick Francis was a man for the long game. While he was born into slavery in Virginia, he went on to work for Hancock’s, a well-known D.C. establishment. For more than thirty-five years, he made a living serving the upper-crust of political aristocracy and seeing history unfold around him. His earnings from the D.C. elite allowed him to purchase real estate and eventually send his son to medical school. His craft became so recognizable that, after the Civil War, he was asked to tend bar for the US Senate!
John Dabney was also born a slave, in 1824. While Mint Juleps were a favorite of the day, Dabney’s Juleps were transcendent. While he was a bartender at Sweet Springs Resort in West Virginia, Dabney put himself on the map by creating delicious Juleps using peach brandy and his signature engraved silver julep cups. Dabney was also able to purchase freedom for himself and his wife, a highly uncommon practice in those days, using the wealth he saved from his earliest days in service.
I have recently been teaching my children about the importance of representation. I am hopeful that reading these stories of bartenders that pushed back against bondage by creating beautiful, complex, and superior cocktails will demonstrate the power of creativity over circumstance and oppression. There is so much more to discover in the stories of these early pioneers! Check out the links below for additional information!
https://www.hailstormdabney.com/story-full – Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren