Gibson Cocktail

Before it disappears into the bowels of the Interwebs, yesterday Barry Popik on Twitter shared an interesting column from the January 26, 1896 edition of the San Francisco Examiner.

The Gibson Cocktail
By the Author of “Chimmie Fadden.”

Just at the minute that an “Examiner” reporter asked me to-day for a column to be printed on this page I couldn’t consider anything else than the matter I was discussing then. This matter was contained in a cocktail glass, and as my judgment is set with adamantine inflexibility against cocktails as they are generally known, I should be doing violence to my own feelings as well as to the feelings of your polite readers to mention the subject were it not that this cocktail is really not a cocktail at all. Do I seem to be speaking paradoxically? Then let me explain to you:

He happened to find me drinking a simple concoction which, on the little island of Manhattan, is known as the Gibson cocktail. Relinquishing my desire to speak only to your politest readers, I will, if you will permit me, discourse for a moment for the benefit and physical and mental and moral good of your less-polite readers who are addicted in any degree to the cocktail habit. To drink any cocktail is a sin which I have often taken opportunity to condemn; yet being a reasonable man and realizing the inevitableness of sin in some degree, I feel that he does wisely who minimizes any sin, hence I drink and talk about the Gibson cocktail. It is the invention of my friend, Mr. William Curtis Gibson, the managing editor of “Puck.” As we observe to be the case in all epoch-making inventions, its greatness lies in its simplicity. It is composed solely of one part gin and one part vermouth. Now that you have had it explained does it not seem that it should have been discovered long ago?

Yet it remained for my friend Gibson, after many, painstaking years of investigation, to discover that these ingredients compose the perfect cocktail. Will you try one? Is it not convincing?

• • •

By the way, the mention of Mr. Gibson recalls a very successful experiment in which he took a prominent part, and which will interest many San Franciscans. Mr. Gibson is a popular member of a set of clever men, illustrators and writers who for many years dined together at Martin’s restaurant on the corner of University place and Ninth street, New York, It was during my first year in New York that I had the good fortune to meet a number of the members of that set, and at that time they were discussing the formation of a dining club. They knew that I was a member of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, and I attribute to that fact my good fortune in having been asked to join with them in founding what has since become a prosperous and popular club named the Cloister. Henry Bunner, the poet; Gibson, Jim Ford, the story-writer and satirist; Julian Ralph, and a score of such good men, founded the club and were heaven-inspired to introduce the feature of permitting members to bring ladies to the dinners.

I carefully instructed my fellow charter members in regard to the popular features of the Bohemian Club, and we soon had gathered together a hundred of the brightest chaps in the professions of writing and illustrating in New York. From Clinton place, where we first hung the crane, the Cloister has recently moved into a fashionable habitation on Forty-first street, and its assured success is an amiable contradiction of the dictum pronounced some years ago by the New York “Sun,” that the social conditions in New York made the formation of a Bohemian Club, such as that of San Francisco, impossible there.

(column continues)


This is a great find, for several reasons.
First off, priority. Before this, the earliest reference I know to the Gibson is from the New York World, February 13, 1898:
Interestingly, this is from a humor article by Edward W. Townsend–the same person who wrote the 1896 article. Taken together, the two articles suggest the Gibson came from New York, not San Fransisco as was believed in the early 1900s; that it was originally made with genever, not British gin, and that it was named after a Gibson completely unknown to drinklore (there, we candidates we find are Charles Dana Gibson, the artist, and Walter D. K. Gibson of San Francisco, both members of the Bohemian Grove club).

One place where drinklore appears to have got it right is in its suggestion that the drink came out of the Bohemian Grove, a vector for transmission identified by Cocktail Bill Boothby as early as 1908. If it didn’t originate there, the connection between William Curtis Gibson and his set and the Bohemian Grove set gives us pathway for the New York drink to become a San Francisco one, although with English gin instead of the Dutch stuff.

In any case, in New York the drink appears to have been unknown until it got famous in California.


I intend to make a genever Gibson this afternoon. I may regret it, but it must be done.

Genever and dry vermouth are not one of my favored combinations; too much like whisk(e)y and dry vermouth, which I also dislike.

Also my experience, but I will give it one more go.

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This is 50:50 Old Duff 100% Malt Wine and Dolin Dry. Obviously, not much to look at.

It’s not terrible. There’s nothing offensive about it. It reminds somewhat of drinking some Polish vodkas. In other words, this combo strikes me as somehow less than the sum of its parts, as if the ingredients are canceling each other out in some ways without creating anything new of value. I’d rather drink either ingredient on its own.


Very interesting. New news about one of my favorite cocktails.

This is a great find and very interesting indeed. Even the views on cocktails then well over 100 years ago.

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Fascinating! And the Gibson is my favourite martini. A superior one that clocks in at a bracing 7oz can be had at Chez Zou here in NY, above ZouZou’s in Hudson Yards.

Good genever and dry vermouth are indeed not a match made in heaven, but the best attempts to marry them that I’ve ever seen always incorporated, or substituted, bianco vermouth, which of course hadn’t been invented in 1896.

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My brother, who was a somm at both places, says that ZouZou’s Gibson is something that bartenders brought with them from the Nomad bar. The original was conceived as Nomad’s signature, named the Walter Gibson, for Thomas Pasterzak’s son, and contained some chenin blanc and house-pickled onions. Should be in the Nomad cocktail book.