HomeNewsBartending - A (Very) Brief History: Antiquity to Jerry

Bartending - A (Very) Brief History: Antiquity to Jerry

This month at the Blend, in honour of World Bartender Day on February 24th, we’re celebrating the bartender and their indispensable role in society. 

Whilst not laying claim to being the world’s oldest profession, bartending has existed as far back as public drinking houses, which like a great many things we take for granted in modern society (roads, newspapers, the legal system) can be attributed to the Romans. The prototype ‘owner/operator’, these early trailblazers would have owned taverns and inns, providing refuge and revelry for travellers seeking shelter. As Roman influence spread, so too did these ‘tabernae’, quickly graduating to ‘Taverns’ as they spread through Britain and adopted the selling of ales to the customary offering of wine, all created by the proprietor. These taverns were soon quickly differentiated from private residences by the sales of alcohol signified by a hanging bush over the front door, and the term ‘public house’ came into use, gradually shortened to the colloquial ‘pub’. 

The constant throughout these early taverns, inns and public houses were the people who owned and ran them, serving not only as merchants but likely commiserators, conspirators and confidants.

The term ‘Bar’ first comes to prominence in the 12th century by way of the French barre, itself derived from the Latin barra, meaning a beam or barrier. It wasn’t until the late 16th and early 17th Century where reference to a drink being served on a counter started to appear, paving the way for a concrete place in our lexicon to this day.

As soon as there were bars, they needed people to tend them, and with the meteoric rise of Punch the hospitality aspect was elevated to encompass the mixing of drinks. The first written mention of the cocktail appeared in a newspaper in 1806, with the increasing availability of ice and bitters leading to a host of budding innovators concocting the drinks we still drink to this day; the mint julep, sherry cobbler, and Old Fashioned.

It was a failed gold-prospector who first put Bartending as a profession on the map. Jerry Thomas moved back East after failing to strike it rich in California, opening the first of four saloons in New York City in 1851. The original Star-Tender, resplendent with solid silver bar tools embellished with precious stones, Jerry toured America and Europe before releasing his seminal manual ‘The Bon Vivants Companion’ in 1862, paving the way for the likes of Erik Lorincz, Holly Graham and Nico de Soto today. 

With the profession now reaching a point of establishment with more similarities to today than our toga wearing ancestors, we’ll pause, reflect and raise a flagon to where we came from before diving into the 150 years since that have both defined and refined us.