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Jerry Thomas Speakeasy

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Vicolo Cellini 30, Rome

By Hamish Smith

In his 1860s pomp, some say Jerry Thomas earned more than the then president of the US. In his bar he hung immodest portraits of himself; his book, The Bartenders Guide, was and is the most famous literary examination of the cocktail; and in the Blue Blazer, he even had a flamboyant liquid catchphrase. Jerry Thomas was, unequivocally, the first celebrity bartender.

One hundred and 50 years on and four Italians – Leonardo Leuci Roberto Artusio, Alessandro Procoli and Antonio Parlapiano – set up a bar in his name. They’d seen the rise of the speakeasy in New York and London, the return to classic cocktails and how Jerry Thomas had become the Jesus Christ of bartending – he found life in death.

The bar was opened on a budget in a back alley of Rome – an exemplar of the vintage-chic digs that became feverishly cool at the turn of the decade. Jerry Thomas shook up the Rome cocktail scene like a raid on a speakeasy – this was anything but the white-coated classical Italian hospitality of old. At Jerry Thomas bartenders dressed from ear to ear in the era of the speakeasy, the hidden bars that started to appear just as Jerry Thomas hung up his Blue Blazer and became widespread during Prohibition of the 1920s.

The bar has developed its role since – it now stocks 1,600 bottles of spirits and attracts guests from all around the world – but has never left character. Now in its fourth edition of The World’s 50 Best Bars, Jerry Thomas Project must be considered a landmark of its country’s drinking landscape. The great man would surely have agreed. What celebrity bartender wouldn’t want a bar built in homage to his life?