Cocktail bar owners used to be simple folk. When it came to naming a place, they kept it basic. They’d name it after themselves (Harry’s Bar), or its location (Dukes Bar, inside London’s Dukes Hotel), or what it was known for serving (The Sazerac Bar) or what it wanted to be (Harry’s New York Bar—which is in Paris). Things didn’t get so esoteric.
No such square thinking for cool-cat, cocktail bar owners. When it comes to nomenclature, the more arcane the reference the better. They want you to know how much they know in terms of abstruse cocktail history (a lot!), while not entirely letting you in on the secret. And so, many of the most renowned cocktail dens in the worlds have names like puzzle boxes, making sly nods to obscure historical figures, drinks, liquors, laws and almost anything from the 19th century.
We decided to put together a guide to the drinking world’s trickier monikers, so you can enjoy your cocktails in peace, rather than spend all the time on your phone Googling José Yves Limantour and Charles H. Baker.
A thumb in the eye of William Ashley Sunday, a fiery evangelist who campaigned ferociously in favor of Prohibition. But, as Frank Sinatra reminds us, Chicago was “the town that Billy Sunday could not shut down.”
A drink, popularized in the 1950s, made of crème de noyaux, crème de cacao and heavy cream. Frequently served as an ice-cream drink—particularly in Midwestern environs like Chicago.
A noun coined during Prohibition to signify the sort of law-breaker who flouted the liquor ban. (Scofflaw is also the name of a cocktail created around that time. But the Scofflaw cocktail is a whiskey drink, and Scofflaw, the bar, is a gin joint.)
Taken from a quote by Bernard DeVoto, who wrote The Hour, a cranky midcentury ode to the cocktail hour: “This is the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow again and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen magically along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn.”
New York City
An oblique reference to the 18th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which kicked off Prohibition and later became the only amendment ever to be repealed.
A term for very bad, possibly toxic, homemade hooch whipped up at Prohibition-era parties.
The name of this Cuban-themed bar refers to Aeromarine Airways, a short-lived luxury fleet that made regular trips to Havana. The tail fins of the outfit’s planes were painted black.
The Clover Club is both a pre-Prohibition gin cocktail, and the name of a private men’s club in Philadelphia from which the drink hailed.
Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog
The Dead Rabbits were a notorious, Irish-American street gang in mid-1800s New York—the ruffian members of which would likely have been turned away at the door of this mock-19th-century saloon.
Death & Co.
Macabre words regarding the negative effects of alcohol, borrowed from a piece of Prohibition-era propaganda possessed by the bar’s co-owner, David Kaplan.
The name for gin in 18th-century England, when it was cheap and plentiful and, well, caused some societal problems.
Ever notice the way mixed spirits look as they’re strained from cocktail shaker to glass?
Raines Law Room
Modern cocktail bars love to poke fun at history’s various failed attempts to legislate drinking. The Raines Law, named after New York State politician John Raines, was passed in 1896. It decreed that, on Sundays, alcohol could only be served in hotels to guests, and had to be accompanied by food. Saloons quickly added makeshift furnished rooms to their premises, thus becoming “Raines Law hotels.”
A euphemism for Prohibition, perhaps used sincerely upon the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920, but evoked sarcastically ever since.
Bourbon and Branch
An old-fashioned way of ordering bourbon and water, the “branch” being branch water, as drawn from a stream.
An abbreviation known to anyone who has ever drunkenly read the fine print on the label on a liquor bottle. Short for “alcohol by volume.”
A type of still that goes back centuries.
One of the oldest saloons in San Francisco, it is named after Henry Comstock, who lent his name to the Comstock lode in nearby Virginia City, Nevada, the richest silver mine in U.S. history. (Naming it after Anthony Comstock, a famous Victorian moralist, would have made more sense.)
Named after the warehouses in which whiskey is aged.
Whitechapel is a district in the East End of London. London is a gin town. Whitechapel, the bar, is a gin bar.
A term applied to higher-proof gin, historically associated with Plymouth gin and the British Royal Navy.
A classic cocktail made from blended Scotch and sweet vermouth.
This one wins the blue ribbon for obscurity. Little Jumbo was the oxymoronic name of a Bowery bar once run by Harry Johnson, a leading 19th-century American bartender and author of one of the defining cocktail manuals of the time. There is also a Little Jumbo bar in Asheville, NC. Obscurists are everywhere.
José Yves Limantour was the Mexican Secretary of Finance from 1893 to 1911. According to the bar, in 1910, he taxed alcohol in Mexico.
An antiquated French term for a café owner, who traditionally served a lot more than lemonade.
Naming your bar after a classic cocktail is one thing. Naming it after a modern classic cocktail—now that’s some hardcore cocktail nerd shit. The Bramble cocktail was one of the more lasting inventions of bartender Dick Bradsell, the godfather of the UK cocktail renaissance.
Last Word Saloon
One of several cocktails bars around the globe named after the Last Word, a once super-obscure pre-Prohibition gin drink whose fortunes were revived by Murray Stenson, a legendary Seattle barkeep.
Named after an early-20th century cocktail made of gin, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, orange juice and either Curaçao or Grand Marnier.
Named for a bird that, like most drinkers, conducts its business at night.
As in “three sheets to the wind,” an old seafaring expression dating back to the 19th century, meaning drunk.
One of many terms for an illegal drinking den, originating in the 19th century and popular during Prohibition.
Norwegian for “moonshine.”
A type of cask widely used in the whiskey industry to age spirits.
Jerry Thomas Speakeasy
This Roman cocktail bar went full-on geek by taking the name of the father of modern mixology, 19th-century American barman Jerry Thomas.
Vesper Cocktail Bar
The Vesper is a Martini variation invented in “Casino Royale” by fictional international spy James Bond.
Charles H. Baker Jr. was a globe-trotting rapscallion who married well, hung out with Hemingway and, in between adventures, wrote about booze for Esquire, Gourmet and the like. He also managed to bang out a few colorful volumes about drinks and travel, making him a heroic figure in modern cocktail circles.
Jigger and Pony
Named after two common tools of mixological measurement. A jigger holds an ounce and a half of liquid. A pony holds one ounce.
The name given to the ornate, gin-dispensing saloons popular in England in the 19th century.
A date every cocktail egghead knows. It is the year the first known definition of “cocktail” appeared in print, in The Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York.