How The Ward Eight Became The Signature Cocktail Of Boston

Some signature drinks and official state foods are no-brainers. Consider Georgia's peaches, Florida's Key lime pie, and Kentucky's Mint Julep. Others are baffling. There's plenty of dispute about whoopie pies holding court as Maine's official state treat. Seriously. Why? Maine lobster is coveted around the world. Full disclosure: We are not suggesting any particular state took the task of christening an official food lightly. We'd go so far as to say the reason may be abundantly clear to those in the know. It's just that the connection may not be as obviously apparent to curious bystanders.

Case in point, Boston's signature cocktail. If the category came up on a game show, we'd probably shout out: "Cape Codder." An elixir of cranberry juice and vodka? Of course, what could be more Boston than that? Okay, maybe an ice-cold Sam Adams, but we are talking cocktails, not beer. The thing is, we would be wrong. Boston's signature drink is the Ward Eight. The what? While it may not be the most obvious choice — it's not even widely known in Boston — there's a story behind the less-than-well-known whiskey cocktail that has reigned for more than 100 years as Boston's signature cocktail. It all began in the late 1890s at Locke-Ober, a venerable Boston dining establishment where powerful businessmen and politicians of the day — that's right, businessmen; the restaurant didn't welcome women until some time in the early 1970s — gathered to wheel and deal.

Tiki-time in Boston? Not quite

A Ward Eight is a blend of whiskey, lemon juice, orange juice, grenadine, and soda water garnished with a maraschino cherry and an orange slice. Sounds more like the whiskey version of a Tequila Sunrise than an old-world Boston cocktail, but old-world it is. Legend has it the elixir was created for 19th-century Boston mover-and-shaker Martin Lomasney, an influential career politician who had just been elected to represent the city's Eighth Ward in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Lomasney and his supporters were at Locke-Ober celebrating the victory when someone asked the bartender to create a cocktail in honor of Lomasney's win.

Some accounts identify the genius behind Boston's longtime signature cocktail as bartender Charlie Carter, but the dates don't line up. Lomasney won the seat in 1898 and there is some question about whether or not Carter even worked at Locke-Ober at the time. Other bartenders' names bandied about include Tom Hussion and Billy Kane. While its exact provenance is unclear, we know Ward Eight was one of several drinks the bartender created that night. Party-goers tasted and voted. Ward Eight won the top spot. Maybe it peaked too quickly? For whatever reason, the cocktail Punchdrink quoted the Boston Herald as describing as "the most talked-of drink in Boston" in 1907, quickly faded into obscurity. If you are inclined to give it a try, the one-time famous cocktail has been spotted at a Boston bar named Ward 8, but it's not currently listed on the establishment's drinks menu.