Happy Hour History: The Ward 8

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Boston sometimes gets a bad rap. The combination of an oppressive sports culture, that, er, unique accent, and ubiquitous backward-hat-wearing bros often leads outsiders to dismiss the historic American city as a cultural backwater where a pleasant trip to the ballpark might result in a surprise vomit shower.

If Boston had gotten the 2024 Olympics, this dude would have been its mascot.

And while Bean Town will never beat New York in a contest of cosmopolitanism, there is culture to be found there. (I mean, there has to be, right?)

For instance, did you know Boston has a signature cocktail? No, it’s not a Solo cup full of Jägermeister downed on the way into Fenway. It’s the Ward 8, a smooth, refined sipper born in the Gilded Age, but long since forgotten to history.

Naturally, the origins of the Ward 8 are a bit spotty. The official story holds that bartender Tom Hussion created the cocktail at the Locke-Ober restaurant on election night in 1898. According to the story, a patron requested a special drink to celebrate the election of Martin M. Lomasney, a local democratic boss from Boston’s eighth ward who had just won a seat in the Massachusetts General Court (state legislature).

Interestingly, Lomasney was a teetotaler, making the cocktail’s dedication more tongue-in-cheek than genuine. It’s a twist that likely was not lost on the Locke-Ober patrons, who, like all good Bostonians, likely regarded nondrinkers with a healthy dose of skepticism.

However, a 1936 source challenges this account, alleging barman Charlie Carter first mixed up the Ward 8 at the Puritan Club in 1903. Meanwhile, a book from 1940 credits Locke-Ober bartender Billy Kane not Hussion. And while the 1898 story gets the most play, it’s worth noting that Hussion apparently was not working at the Locke-Ober until 1900.

The Ward 8 is essentially a variation on the whiskey sour. The addition of the orange juice and grenadine adds more depth of flavor than regular simple syrup, and gives the cocktail an alluring hue in the glass. While recipes vary wildly — some call for bourbon instead of rye, others suggest soda, orange bitters, and various garnishes —the one presented below seems to be the most prevalent.

Ward 8 Recipe

2 oz. rye whiskey
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. orange juice
1/4 oz. grenadine.

Directions: Combine ingredients with ice and shake for 10-20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail or coupe glass and serve.

Enjoy while listening to this.

Jim Sabataso is a writer, part-time bartender, and full-time cocktail enthusiast living in Vermont. Follow him on Twitter @JimSabataso