Hello, one and all. Welcome to the Jerry Thomas Chronicles. My name is Tony Bell, and I’ll be your bartender for this evening. I am a former Forest Park resident, now residing across Harlem in Oak Park. My thanks to the fine folks at Wednesday Journal for asking me to write a blog about bartending and mixology for the online version of the Forest Park Review. I’ll tell you a little bit about myself in just a bit, but first, who is Jerry Thomas?
Jeremiah P. Thomas (1830-1885) was a man who is considered the father of American bartending, kind of like the patron saint for those of us who work behind the bar. Thomas popularized, and certainly invented many of the cocktails we enjoy well over a century after his death. He was a great showman, and was among the first to display a technique of what we now call ‘flair bartending’, which involves flipping and juggling bottles and glasses while mixing drinks. If you recall Tom Cruise’s role in “Cocktail”, that would be ‘flair bartending’. Today, bartenders enter competitions and win money doing those things, but it all started with Jerry Thomas. His most famous drink, by the way, was the ‘Blue Blazer’, which involved lighting whiskey afire and passing it back and forth between two pewter mugs creating an arc of flame. I’ll have more to say about Jerry Thomas in future installments.
As for me, I am a proud member of the Illinois Chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. The Guild works to raise the image of the professional bartender by providing training and certification, as well as encouraging members to perform charitable work in their communities. I work here in town at Jim’s Pour Decision on Madison, as well as for a large national movie chain that in now installing cocktail lounges in the lobbies of their theaters. I also do free lance bartending at private parties and for corporate and charitable events. This was kind of a midlife career change for me, so while I haven’t been working as a bartender as long as many of the folks in town, I believe I bring a passion and dedication to my work, as well as a love of the history of the profession, that will make these blog entries informative and fun to read.