With the recent news of Locke-Ober closing its doors, we turn to Boston’s most famous cocktail: The Ward Eight. As Stephanie Schorow writes in Drinking Boston, the Ward Eight is “one part history, one part myth, and all parts Boston.”

As the story goes, the creation of the Ward Eight cocktail is attributed to an apparently skillful Locke-Ober bartender named Tom Hussion. According to a history of Locke-Ober, prepared by Sherman L. Whipple, III (and distributed by the restaurant), here’s the simple version of how the Ward Eight cocktail was born:

In November of 1898, [Martin] Lomasney was running for representative in the Massachusetts General Court from Ward Eight. On the night before the election, a group from the Hendricks Club gathered at Tom’s end of the bar. A toast to Lomasney’s success at the polls on the following day was proposed, and all agreed Tom should compound a new drink for the occasion. The result, grenadine in a whiskey sour, was acclaimed and christened the Ward Eight…

Ironically, it’s highly unlikely that Lomasney was even there for the creation of the drink, as he was in fact an ardent teetotaler and possibly a supporter of the Volstead Act.

The drink was widely popular in the Boston area by the 1920s, and variations on the Ward Eight recipe are found in bartending manuals from the 1930s to 1950s. For purists, the actual recipe of the Ward Eight, as it was originally mixed by Tom Hussion, is a maddening trail of incongruity set against a delicious backdrop of Boston’s ward politics (intrigued individuals must pick up a copy of  Stephanie Schorow’s Drinking Boston for more details.) Suffice it to say that the ingredients and their proportions vary widely—sometimes rye, sometimes bourbon, sometimes a call for orange juice and orange slice, sometimes ornamentation of another variety altogether. Some versions add a splash of club soda. Some don’t.

In December 1934, just after Prohibition, Esquire magazine writer Frank Shay lists the Ward Eight as among the top ten cocktails of the year and clearly identifies the drink as coming from Boston. In his view, the Ward Eight was among the pantheon that included the dry martini, the Old Fashioned, the champagne cocktail, the daiquiri, Planter’s Punch, and the vodka martini—the Bronx, Orange Blossom, Pink Lady, Fluffy Ruffles, Pom Pom, and Cream Fizz were deemed among the ten worst of the year. Shay gives this recipe:

In the Ward Eight they take the juice of a quarter lemon or half a lime, add the juice of a quarter orange. These are placed in a bar glass half filled with broken ice and a spoonful of Grenadine and a pony of Rye or Bourbon. This is shaken briskly and strained into a cocktail glass. In less informed sections of Boston there exist men who call for a larger portion of whiskey and have the potions served in a Delmonico glass that is brimmed with seltzer. Such outlanders wish theirs decorated with cherry, sliced lemon and orange. To me that final effort brings to mind a Christmas Tree out of season.

Whether the Ward Eight remains as “current” or tasty in 2012 as it did in 1934 is, of course, a matter of opinion. What is indisputable is that the Ward Eight hails from the always colorful political history of Boston and will forever be associated with one of the city’s most venerable eating establishments.

We include here one possible version of the original cocktail, as well as an updated recipe from Drink. Either way, here’s to you, Locke-Ober.

 

Ward Eight

2 ounces rye whiskey (No rye? Use bourbon.)

3⁄4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1⁄2 ounce real pomegranate grenadine

Shake all ingredients very well over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Garnish with orange wheel and cherry if desired.

Ward Eight

Recipe from Drink

3 ounces Old Overholt rye

1 ounce lemon juice

1⁄2 ounce simple syrup

4 dashes Angostura bitters

1⁄2 ounce grenadine

Top soda water

Place mint inside over-size vintage glass, muddle, and remove. Shake rye, lemon, and simple syrup in ice cocktail shaker. Strain into prepared glass filled with crushed ice.

Measure grenadine, add bitters, and “sink” into center of cocktail.

Top with soda water and garnish elaborately.

For more about the history of Boston’s nightclubs and classic drinks like the Ward Eight, pick up a copy of Drinking Boston: A History of the City and Its Spirits, by Stephanie Schorow. To help you explore the Hub’s best bars (both historic and contemporary) download our free smartphone app. Cheers!