Our founding fathers liked to drink. And since then, most of the men who’ve run this country from that big white house also drank — hard. Hell, even their wives knew how to tie one on in style. (James Madison’s party-loving wife Dolly, for instance, threw raucous weekly ragers and became known for her champagne-popping skills.)
You can learn this fact and the fascinating drinking habits of everyone from George Washington to President Obama in author Brian Abrams and illustrator John Mathias’ newly released tome, Party Like a President: True Tales of Inebriation, Lechery, and Mischief From the Oval Office, a historical booze guide that feels like the most appropriate book to kick back with this President's Day.
And if you find yourself wishing you too could drink like a president today, luckily, Los Angeles is packed with bars willing to keep up the liquored pace of our tippling commanders-in-chief. Here are some popular drinks imbibed by past presidents and where to drink them yourself:
John Adams' Hard Cider
That old grump John Adams apparently drank “a tankard of hard cider at every breakfast” during his 1797-1801 presidency (and long before that as well). Quite a feat! Start the day off right with hard cider on tap at The Surly Goat (7929 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood), or if you’re feeling a bit cheeky on this particular holiday, you could stop by Ye Olde King’s Head British Pub, (116 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica) for dry Blackthorn cider on tap.
Dolly Madison’s Whiskey Sour
So we know Dolly Madison liked to party, even if her husband James was something of a wallflower. While the term “whiskey sour” was uncommon at the time of Dolly’s parties (1809), those who’ve studied the life and times of the Madisons deduced that Dolly’s lemonade-liked spiked punches were likely in line with the modern understanding of the drink: lemon, sugar, bourbon. Some great spots for a quality whiskey sours: Thirsty Crow, Cole’s, The Varnish (which is in the back of Cole’s), Melrose Umbrella Co. and Seven Grand. Actually, you can get many of the following presidential drinks at those bars, all known for their classic-cocktail menus.
Some of the stories Abrams shares in Party Like a President are quite salacious, while others simply provide interesting party chatter on our favorite cocktails. Harry Truman’s favorite beverage — a bourbon and ice staple — provides the latter:
In the Trumans’ first week at 1600 Penn, butler Alonzo Fields would discover the meaning behind the president’s pet name for his wife. According to Chief Usher J.B. West, “the Boss” ordered two old-fashioneds for herself and the president. Fields, no slouch with a muddler, arrived with chilled glasses filled with citrus peels, bitters, and whiskey. Bess took a sip, gave a sour smile, and passive-aggressively thanked him. The next evening, she asked Fields for two more old-fashioneds but made a little drier.
‘We don’t like them so sweet,’ she explained.
For a more specialty version locally, a good bet would be Silverlake’s Thirsty Crow (2939 Sunset Blvd.). The dark-paneled whiskey bar is known for such a cocktail, among others, and the bartenders handle the task with care. This is a sharp old-fashioned with a thin strip of orange peel set afire then dropped carefully in a smooth glass of bourbon. Not too sweet, but just right. Truman would’ve loved it. You could also stop by Cole’s in downtown (118 East 6th St.), a legitimately old-timey bar (the supposed originator of the French dip sandwich, it’s been around since 1908), with a stellar old-fashioned hand, not too muddled, topped with a citrus peel and cherry. Or try the modern mixologist version with a retro cocktail menu vibe in the gorgeous Melrose Umbrella Co. (7465 Melrose Ave.) post-prohibition space in the Fairfax District. There’s also the barrel-aged “toasted wood notes” old-fashioned at The Corner Door (12477 West Washington Blvd.).
John Tyler's Mint Julep
At Thirsty Crow, President John Tyler’s favorite bourbon concoction comes with a sno-cone scoop of ice garnished with frilly mint. Downtown L.A.’s Seven Grand (515 West 7th St. #2) is another well-known L.A. spot for the summery gentleman’s drink. And since it’s perfect weather nearly year-round here in la-la-land, mint juleps can quench thirst all year round!
Herbert Hoover's Gin Fizz
Sadly, Herbert Hoover was president during Prohibition and observed said law in the White House. And yet, before he was top dog and just a lowly cabinet member, he used to stop by the Belgian embassy every evening to throw back a glass or two of gin and vermouth. If you want to keep up the Hoover tradition, you could always stop by Big Bar (1927 Hillhurst Ave.) in Loz Feliz and request the once-banned cocktail of gin-egg white-lemon in cheers to the prez and jeers to the former ban while sitting outside in the string light-lit patio. In fact, Hoover’s predecessor, Calvin Coolidge, liked a similar concoction of gin, lemon, sugar, grenadine, and egg white, garnished with mint and known as The Clover Club Cocktail, so you’d conceivably be celebrating both.
Teddy Roosevelt's Hot Milk Punch
This is a weird one but hey, if it was good enough for Theodore Roosevelt, it must alright, right? To get your taste of Teddy’s favored libation — a mix of Cognac brandy, rum, nutmeg, and whole milk, stop by downtown L.A.’s old-school speakeasy, The Varnish (118 East 6th St.). This classy joint is known for a rotating menu of classic cocktails, so make sure to check to see what’s in stock. If there’s no Hot Milk Punch upon your arrival, you can always get a mean old fashioned.
Rutherford B. Hayes' Spiked Sorbet
As Abrams explains it, Rutherford B. Hayes’s wife, Lucy, was a devout mother of eight who had banned wine and liquor from White House public functions. And yet, the presidency managed one quiet item of intoxicating indulgence at gatherings: a frozen boozy punch served in hollowed-out oranges. If you’re lucky enough to have Presidents Day off, you can make this one at home. It might be your best bet for truly authentic “Lemonade Lucy” Spiked Sorbets:
1 quart lemon sorbet
4 ounces rum
4 ounces cognac
1 ounce orange liqueur
8 ounces champagne
4 oranges, sliced in half with fruit scooped out and discarded
Mix the sorbet, rum, cognac, and liqueur in a container and freeze overnight. At serving time, add the champagne. Pack the frozen mixture into the scooped-out oranges.
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