Ask a Bartender: What's Your Favorite Old-School Cocktail Book?

Phil Wills of Dog Haus Biergarten in Pasadena

While the world of craft cocktails has evolved in recent years, bartenders still pay constant respect to classic drinks. And many of those classics come to us through cocktail books—some dating back to the Prohibition era or before. We asked bartenders around the country: What's your favorite old-school cocktail book?

Here's what they had to say.


"The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock, because it made an immediate difference to my craft. It opened my eyes to what constitutes a good cocktail and what can work in a cocktail. I always thought a cocktail should have simple syrup to round it out (even if it's just a dash). And then came the Corpse Reviver #2 from that book and my opinion changed at first sip." —Leo Holtzman (The Cocktail Collection at Tobacco Road)

"I love Bottoms Up by Ted Saucier, published in 1951. Lots of bartenders pretend nothing happened in cocktail culture between Prohibition and 2011, but there are a bunch of recipes in Bottoms Up that deserve revival. (And, granted, many that do not.)" —Kyle Storm (French Louie)

"South American Gentleman's Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book Or, Up & Down the Andes with Jigger, Beaker and Flask by Charles H Baker. I think it speaks for itself when the introduction says, "A Personally Tested Regiment of Lively Latin Liquid Masterpieces from Greater & Lesser Ports & Cities of Greater South American Republics Lying South of the Big Ditch, as well as a Famous Few from the 3 Guianas." His style is unique and witty and takes you on a journey of food, beverage and libations around the less traveled roads of South America." —Trent Simpson (La Urbana)

"Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix Them by Stanley Arthur was one of the first cocktail books I bought when I started making craft cocktails. It shows how influential New Orleans has been as a cocktail city." —Steve Yamada (Bar R'evolution)

Phil Wills of Dog Haus Biergarten in Pasadena.

"Bartenders Guide by Jerry Thomas. It was of the first cocktail recipe books ever written and published. The classics are truly timeless. The Corpse Reviver is one of my favorites, yet there are so many." —Phil Wills (Dog Haus Biergarten)

"Trader Vic's 1947 Bartender's Guide. It starts out with a few chapters about being a bartender and with names like, 'Phonies, Check-dodgers or the Perils of Bartending,' they're funny, but still poignant and relevant today. The Tiger's Milk Cocktail is a favorite: it is just an odd mix of equal parts brandy and sloe gin, shaken and served with a lemon twist. Simple, weird, and delicious." — David Kinsey (Sycamore Den)

"Harry Johnson's Bartenders Manual and Guide for Hotels and Restaurants. Like the title implies, it is much more than a recipe book for bartenders, who in those days were true tradesmen—it's a guide to nearly every aspect of the service industry from the bartender's point of view. From receiving and tapping casks of ale and carving blocks of ice, to how a kitchen ought to be stocked for different types of bars and the proper way to clean brass fixtures. It's like a snapshot of bartending history, and I am a huge history nerd." —Dave Porcaro (Bigalora Wood Fired Grill)

"My favorite is Stuart's Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them from 1896. We have his Oxford on our menu. It contains a rather rare ingredient called Capillaire syrup that is made from maidenhair ferns." —Michael Lay (Faith & Flower)

The Brooklyn. Blake Royer

"Jack's Manual, printed in 1910. It's got the earliest published recipe for the Brooklyn I've found, and I base my version of the drink on it. It's also full of handy tips for running a bar. A fun read." —Michael Lazar (Hog and Rocks)

"The Official Mixer's Manual by Patrick Gavin Duffy. I love that it not only provides recipes but lists the specific glass a drink should go in, with reference to an index of vintage glassware. I love to make the Satan's Whiskers Curled Cocktail. It calls for equal parts French and Italian Vermouth, gin, and orange juice, and then just a barspoon of dry orange Curacao and a few drops of orange bitters. Very savory but still light enough to drink several." — Shane McGrath (The Oakland Art Novelty co.)

"I love Mr. Boston's 1935 edition. My favorite cocktail, a really obscure one, is the Yellow Parrot, which I found when I first got this book. It's also fun to look at the later volumes just to see drinks changing over the years." — Rodger Gillespie (LAVO Las Vegas)

"I like The Savoy Cocktail Book for a fun, classic read as well as some great art deco illustrations. And, the Hanky Panky is one of the recipes in it; how can that possibly be wrong?" —Elizabeth Powell (Liberty Bar)

"A friend showed me his signed copy of Cocktail and Wine Digest Encyclopedia & Guide For Home & Bar by Oscar Haimo. It's not a book that has anything extra-special, but I was enthralled by some of the information that's very, as my girlfriend would say, "of an era." I especially like the recipe for a "Tequila Cocktail." Today we would call it by another name: 'a shot of tequila!' Rim a shotglass with salt. Pour in a shot of tequila. Garnish with a lime wedge." —Josh Berner (Poste Moderne Brasserie)