Unlike many other cocktails, the history of the bijou seems relatively straightforward and uncontroversial. The drink was invented by Harry Johnson, the “dean” of bartending, who wrote one of the first “Bartender’s Manuals.” He may also deserve some credit for the hipster waxed handlebar moustache look to which many hipster bartenders aspire, but maybe there’s just a genetic predisposition in play? Anyway, Harry Johnson was originally a Prussian sailor who broke his leg and was left behind in San Francisco. He started bartending in the 1860s, back when San Francisco was the largest American city west of the Mississippi.
In 1868, Harry moved to Chicago where he created “what was generally recognized to be the largest and finest establishment of its kind in this country,” according to Harry anyway. This is difficult to verify, as the building was lost 3 years later in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which killed 300 people, scorched 3 square miles and left 100,000 people homeless. Johnson bounced to Boston and then to New York where he set up another hotel bar.
He claims to have written the first edition of his bartender’s guide in his early days at San Francisco during the 1860s, before Jerry Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide (1862). Johnson boasts 10,000 were sold. However, none have ever been found, so the claim seems a bit suspect, and most likely, the 1880s edition is the first.
Our featured cocktail the Bijou was first published in the 1900s edition. It was originally garnished with a lemon peel, and a cherry or a medium sized olive. The original version is a little too sweet for some palates, so modern variants often double the gin relative to vermouth and Green Chartreuse. Indeed to martini drinkers pairing gin and sweet vermouth is almost sacrilege. The resulting drink shimmers, likely as a result of the vermouth in suspension with other ingredients.
- .75 oz Gin (Plymouth)
- .75 oz Sweet Vermouth (Dolin)
- .75 oz Green Chartreuse
- 1 Dash of Orange Bitters (Angostura)
- Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
- Stir gently
- Express a lemon peel, and garnish
Because we spent our future children’s college tuition funds acquiring a fancy aged Green Chartreuse this weekend, we’re declaring this “Green Chartreuse Week!” Our first featured cocktail is the bijou, pronounced BEE-joo, an old 19th century cocktail.