The Boulevardier with the twist

The Boulevardier. Photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Were it not for the Internet, my guess is that only the most devoted barfly would know about the Boulevardier. It’s not in any of my cocktail books, not the standard-bearing The Standard Bartender’s Guide, my Madmen-era dad’s paperback. I only heard about it from a reader of this blog (with links below). And an email this week pushed me into a tasting, happily!

I love how various flavoring components (bitters, vermouths) become different cocktails when you change the spirit. How the Manhattan becomes a Rob Roy when you change the bourbon to scotch (as opposed to a lame-sounding “Scotch Manhattan”), or how a Martini becomes a … um, never mind about that #lostcause (Paulius, can we hope for Darwinian selection here?). I love the elasticity of a solid cocktail, how the addition of apple brandy turns a Clover Club into a Pink Lady.

Here, one of my favorite cocktails, the Negroni, becomes a Boulevardier when bourbon replaces the gin. A couple of recent essays (Tmagblog, Imbibe) have wondered why this cocktail isn’t on more menus and I agree. Interestingly, it was apparently invented 20 years before the Negroni in Paris by an American ex-pat socialite who ran a literary magazine, Boulevardier. I do like the 1:1:1 Negroni ratio, but I agree with the others that the Boulevardier is a richer, more satisfying cocktail using more bourbon, here 1.5 parts, with 1 part each vermouth and Campari.

It’s a strong cocktail, so this is one I’d happily recommend on the rocks as well as straight up. Danny Guess, mixologist at Fly Bar and Restaurant in Tampa, co-author of the iBook 25 Classic Cocktails, and a consultant on these cocktail posts, concurs.

It’s a splendid cocktail on a winter’s evening, when the work week is done, a stew simmers on the stove, and fire crackles on the hearth—complex, strong, smoky, and bittersweet.

The Boulevardier a classic cocktail that was created at Harry's New York Bar in Paris. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.
The Boulevardier
  • 45 grams bourbon (1.5 ounces)
  • 30 grams Campari (1 ounce)
  • 30 grams sweet vermouth (1 ounce)
  • lemon twist
  1. Combine the ingredients in a pint glass filled with ice and strain into a cocktail glass or a rocks glass with ice, to preference.
  2. Garnish with a twist of lemon zest.
  3. Put your feet near a fire. Raise the glass to your companion if you’re with one. Otherwise do nothing, say nothing, as you enjoy your first sips of this fine elixir.

If you liked this post, check out these other links:

© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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27 Wonderful responses to “Friday Cocktail Hour: The Boulevardier”

  • Jake Anderson

    I can’t believe I haven’t thought of this before. The negroni is one of my favorite cocktails, but I tend to be a whiskey drinker. I happen to have everything needed to make this… later… or now.

    • ruhlman

      unless you’re in europe, I’d get a little more work done. If you’re in Los Angeles, you probably need one now, though.

      • Jake Anderson

        Yeah. Probably. Indiana. 11:11 am. I guess I could make a wish that it was socially acceptable. People make wishes at 11:11, right?

    • Attrill

      That’s how I was taught to make it as well – preferably with Old Overholt. I also make it using Aperol instead of Campari, which works really well (I’m not sure what that is called, I just ran out of Campari one time and happened to have Aperol handy).

  • Ryan Winkels

    The reason you need to use more bourbon is to adjust for all of the water Maker’s Mark puts in their bottle. Just kidding. Looks delicious.

  • Allen

    Fully redeemed after last weeks post.
    That one should be reposted on Halloween, reminded me of the elevator scene from the movie The Shinning.
    I’ve had a manhattan made with Campari from a Michael Chiarello recipe,always wondered if tequila or bourbon could replace the gin. With your recommendation, we will give it a go sometime during the festive Oscar weekend. Spirit awards too.
    I made two terrines of head cheese and a batch of lobster bisque.
    Cheers, Happy Friday all!!!

  • Don

    Well played, sir. I would love this with an orange twist, matching the orange notes in the Campari.

  • Brogie62

    An alternative that I have been experimenting with is replacing the Campari with Averna. The Averna is sweeter than Campari so you need to tone down the vermouth a bit and and add a dash of orange bitters. It’s sort of a cross between a boulevardier and a black manhattan.

  • Josh

    It’s amazing how often I order one of these, only to a receive a perplexed stare from the bartender or…in more than one case, a “we don’t carry that.” In almost the same number of cases, I’ve described the recipe to the barman (it’s not that hard…I should carry laminated cards) only to have him come back with…”WOW! That’s good!”

    This and the vieux carrè seem unnecessarily befuddling, but really, they both make the world a much better place.

  • Teri

    the name may also change when the garnish changes, Martini becomes a Gibson when a cocktail onion replaces an olive. My father loved a Gibson before dinner and in the winter a Snowshoe after dinner.

  • Jeremy

    With orange instead of lemon I was taught it as a Hanky Panky most likely the favorite cocktail in our house..

  • Tags

    No reason you can’t swap out the vermouth for Madeira, as long as you use Madeira from Madeira.
    As for Maker’s Mark, what do you think they’ll do with all that five year old oak-aged water they’ve been saving for this abandoned adjustment?

  • Ed

    As the reader who kept bugging Michael to try this drink I have to comment :-) I’d never heard of this drink until I was watching the “Person of Interest” TV show and one of the characters ordered a Boulevardier. I did some research, tried it, and a favorite cocktail was found. I had to laugh about Josh’s comment as I too have considered getting a laminated card with the recipe on it. I also agree with Jeremy that, for me, an orange zest is best.

    I turned a few friends on to this drink (brief recollections of the 60′s passed through my head). One of them told me that this month’s Bon Appetit has the boulevardier featured (with a lemon zest). It appears to be gaining in popularity.

  • Mandy

    Hmmmm I have always been a campari lover. To join it to boubon and vermouth? THANK you Michael for posting this :) I am off to pick up vermouth tomorrow… the other ingredients rest languishing in the cabinet lol.

  • Allen

    I’ve tried every variation mentioned in the comments, Maderia, Averna, Campari, Aperol. I’m back to the manhattan. Don’t fuck up a good thing.

  • RP

    Amazing that this is on the homepage seeing as how I found this site via your Whiskey Sour recipe, and I just unbarreled 2L of Boulevardier that I mixed up about 2 weeks ago.

    If you can get your hands on an oak barrel, this drink is magical with a bit of aging, it tastes like silk! The best barrel aged drink I’ve made thus far.

    The boulevardier pairs well with a dash of Angostura orange bitter, as well as replacing half the Campari with Cynar, to reduce the sometimes overpowering bitterness.

  • allen

    That movie The Shining! Chemical spill! Proof read you drunk fuck. More Manhattans goddamut!

  • Victoria

    Wow. I have never heard of this drink before. I happen to think a Negroni is the perfect before-dinner cocktail so I will give this a try – sounds good.

  • Allen

    Manhattans, just add vermouth to color the bourbon. Darken it up a bit. Sweet and perfect balance of bitter. Twist of orange, dash of Angostua.
    Perfection?
    Hellll yeah!

  • Gustave

    Love that the Boulevardier gets some recognition. But more importantly where did you get those cocktail coupe glasses?

  • Allen

    Ugh!
    You can delete my dribble. I am a lightweight, two drinks and I’m done. Thank you for expanding our cocktail knowledge, I had real Maderia from making Fergus Hendersons trotter gear. All interesting variations, but not for lightweights.
    My apologies.

  • Ken

    Remarkably, I had my first Boulevardier yester afternoon at Redd in Yountville, CA, prior to starting a long, wny lunch in celebration of a dear friends 60th birthday. It’s the kind of drink that makes a perfect start to a dinner or lunch, tart, refreshing (after a long drive from SF to Yountville) and decidedly different. I can only recommend it highly!

  • Terry

    Bravo Donna! This photo is so beautiful. I always love your photos, but this one really got me. I stared for a few minutes (yes, minutes) before I even started reading.
    Thanks.

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