August 28 is the day to celebrate Harry Johnson’s birthday and for that we’ll be mixing the Bijou cocktail. Some people think of Harry Johnson as just a prank call name (and we do like that use), but our discerning readers also know he was a pioneering bartender. Judged by the New York Sun as the ‘Dean Emeritus’ of the bartending world, we owe Harry Johnson a lot. From his epic book, Bartender’s Manual, to the Bijou cocktail recipe he developed, this is one solidly impressive Johnson.
Harry Johnson, the Bartender
Born in Prussia on August 28, 1845, Harry Johnson became a sailor. His ship left him in San Francisco in 1861 to recover from injuries, and he started as a kitchen-boy at the Union Hotel. He worked his way up to be a bartender and then manager, and met Jerry Thomas, an influential bartender. A rivalry ensued.
Johnson eventually moved to Chicago and opened his own bar. This put him on the map, as he gave lectures and wrote articles and recipes for local newspapers. His bar met its unfortunate demise in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, so he moved to New York and bought the bar Little Jumbo. Thomas used to work there, and soon publicly renounced any association with it.
Along the way Johnson did his most enduring work. He wrote his first book, Bartender’s Manual, in 1869. By 1881 the International News Company asked him to expand it, and in 1882 came the New and Improved Bartender’s Manual. This was perhaps the first publication that was really more than recipes, and included instructions on how to operate a bar. Updated versions of the New and Improved Bartender’s Manual followed in 1888 and 1900. The later version has a full 157 pages on how to operate a bar.
Harry wasn’t bartending himself after 1890. He opened a bar management consulting agency and was the first bar consultant in history. We’re not sure if his name did it, but it seems like a lot of luminary bartenders that followed were named Harry. There was Harry MacElhone, who wrote Barflies and Cocktails. There was our oft quoted Harry Craddock of The Savoy Cocktail Book. And, of course, “Harry” of Ciro’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails where we’re not quite sure who wrote it.
The Bijou Cocktail
Our protagonist Harry Johnson invented a number of drinks, including hair-of-the-dog hangover cures like the Morning Glory Fizz. But today we’re going to focus on the Bijou cocktail, one of his creations that languished in obscurity after Prohibition. Why the Martini and Manhattan stayed in the mainstream while the Bijou languished is a mystery to us. After all, the Bijou recipe uses only ordinary pantry supplies.
The Bijou regained attention In the 1980s when the “King of Cocktails” Dale DeGroff saw it in Johnson’s book. This took off in the early 2000s as bartenders more widely looked back in time for inspiration.
Johnson apparently named the Bijou thinking of the use of the word to denote a jewel. Gin for diamond, sweet vermouth for a ruby and Chartreuse for an emerald. The original Bijou cocktail recipe called for equal parts of gin, sweet vermouth and Chartreuse, but many bartenders have dialed back the proportion of sweet vermouth and Chartreuse a bit. We’re going to present that as the recipe, but if you like it bold simply go for equal portions.
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- 1½ oz Gin
- ¾ oz Sweet Vermouth
- ½ oz Green Chartreuse
- Garnish: Lemon twist or cherry. Harry Johnson also recommended an olive, but we recommend ignoring that advice.
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with lemon twist or cherry.
- Pour in the direction of your liver.
- Rinse and repeat.
I hate when someone twists my arm to drink a Bijou, but obey I must!
Remember, It’s good for you. The Chartreuse is medicinal.
The original proportions were equal parts— but the “modern” drier proportions shown are much better!
Is Green Chartreuse really an “ordinary pantry” item? I mean, for most folks? It’s the main reason I can’t reliably order a Bijou at bars–many don’t stock GC.
Admittedly, we speak a bit tongue in cheek here and Chartreuse is a bit beyond basic staples, but we like to encourage a well stocked home bar. As far as commercial bars that don’t have it….well…that’s definite problem and they deserve some pretty serious side eye.