It may not be politically correct, but liquor is as much a part of politics as kissing babies. The earliest written reference using the word “cocktail” was found in an 1806 editorial criticizing a candidate’s spending on alcohol during his election campaign—which he lost. For presidents, a cocktail can be an icebreaker with other world leaders, or just a way to ease the pressure of power from time to time. Presidential imbibing is not normally the subject of political inquiry, but some of the drinking at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been documented—and tonight you can taste a few of its former residents’ favorites.
FDR’s “famous” Martinis were actually famous for being terrible. Nixon frequented Trader Vic’s in the Statler Hilton for a Navy Grog when he needed an escape. Harry Truman and his wife Bess loved their bourbon Old Fashioneds. In fact, Harry was enjoying a bit of bourbon in House Speaker Sam Rayburn’s office in April 1945 when he learned he had become president on FDR’s death.
John F. Kennedy had a weakness for Daiquiris, and was savoring one while watching returns on Election Day 1960. And the story goes that the Manhattan cocktail was created in honor of New York Governor Samuel Tilden’s presidential campaign in the mid-1870s, by none other than Winston Churchill’s future mother.
Join Museum of the American Cocktail co-founder Philip Greene for this spirited discussion of presidential and political cocktails while you sample several of these White House favorites.
In September 1911, the New York Times chastened William Howard Taft for considering a cocktail made with orange juice to be a suitable morning beverage: "One annoying feature of President Taft's journey through the West has been the controversy caused by the presence of Bronx cocktails at a breakfast party he attended. One does not have to be a clergyman or a total abstainer to reprehend the practice of drinking cocktails before breakfast.” Try mixing up one your own.