The boulevardier is making a comeback, and it's about damn time. As central as Manhattans and negronis are to the contemporary cocktail scene, it’s a mystery why their spiritual love child long languished in relative obscurity.
Drinks historian David Wondrich traces the easy-drinking combination of American whiskey, Campari and Italian vermouth back to Paris in 1927, where a wealthy young American expat named Erskine Gwynne launched a publication patterned after The New Yorker. His magazine, The Boulevardier, featured the first documented recipe for its namesake drink (although it didn’t specify the type of whiskey).
Not even a year ago, it was hard to order a boulevardier in L.A. without receiving a blank stare in return. You'd think that this simple, whiskey-based drink that’s been around for just shy of a century ought to enjoy the universal recognition of, say, a martini. Yet aside from craft cocktail environments, it was relatively obscure in L.A.
There were outliers, of course; Fishing With Dynamite has offered its Original Gangster — a boulevardier made with white whiskey — since opening almost three years ago. And a handful of upscale eateries, generally catering to the vodka-soda set, would occasionally flaunt one (like ink. with its Cynar-tweaked Bensonhurst). But these were the exceptions to a perplexing rule.
Although the original boulevardier recipe features equal parts whiskey, Campari and vermouth — essentially a take on the negroni that uses whiskey instead of gin — bartender Michael Neff plays with proportions at Clifton’s Cafeteria. “Proportion is critical,” he says. For him, that generally means two parts bourbon and one part each of Campari and sweet vermouth. It's a suitable entry point for newcomers. At Jones Hollywood, bartender Eric Tecosky maintains the classic proportion but shifts the basic ingredients, subbing Jack Daniels for bourbon. Served on the rocks, it's a sweeter variation he calls the Lincoln Boulevard.
Genie Gore at Melrose Umbrella Company opts for a barrel-aged genever spirit in lieu of whiskey for her Bols-vardier. “I use Bols, which because of its grain base makes it a perfect bridge between a gin and a whiskey,” she says. She also replaces the Campari with a tandem punch of Galliano herbal liqueur and sour cherry bitters, and the traditional sweet vermouth with Punt e Mes for a savory note. The result is an entirely new boulevardier that still maintains reverence to its roots.
“As a classic cocktail, the Boulevardier is a great next step for people whose tastes usually stop at the Manhattan,” Neff says. “The negroni has been enjoying a newfound popularity, not just with the cocktail community but the public in general. With the tandem rise of bourbon as people's whiskey of choice, the boulevardier is a natural marriage of the two.”