The Hawthorne Strainer: The Indispensable Cocktail Tool and Its Boston Roots

In News by Andrew

By: Dan Devoe

From Boston’s Colonial roots, serving as a hub for early rum trade, Boston has a long and complicated history with alcohol.

When thinking specifically of Boston’s cocktail history, however, the stories are a bit more sparse.

From the late nineteenth Century through the post-Prohibition era, places like New Orleans, New York, and London gather much more attention. And rightly so.

Just try to think of one classic cocktail with Boston origins. It’s difficult for non-professionals, and most would point to the Ward 8, which is a serviceable drink if made with fresh juices, and a thoroughly mediocre drink if not. The main reason we remember the drink at all is likely because of the parochial Boston practice of boosting anything and everything that originates here rather than weighing things on their merits.

The two rarely celebrated and workhorse tools used to make a Ward 8, the Boston shaker and the Hawthorne strainer, however, have deep Boston connections.

Unfortunately, the shaker with the clear name has a murkier history. Despite being used regularly by the mid-Nineteenth Century, its name doesn’t come up until published in a British cocktail wares catalogue in the 1920s. We simply don’t know who first combined two tin cups to create the perfect shaker or if they were even from Boston.

The Hawthorne strainer, on the other hand, has a clearer history starting in the 1890s.

William Wright filed an application for a patent on July 15, 1892.

OCTOCOG-W.WRIGHT-STRAINER-PATENT

The patent application describes “certain Improvements in Strainers for Mixed Drinks” and mentions that it “relates to strainers which are adapted for use in making mixed drinks . . . consisting of a circular plate having a coil of wire around its outer edge.”

Wright admits in his patent application that “I am aware that a strainer having a self-adjusting wire coil around the edge is not broadly new, and I do not, therefore, claim such as my invention.”

It’s unknown how common these strainers with coils were, but the first patent for one appears to be from 1889. This patent, awarded to Charles P. Lindley of Bridgeport, Connecticut was for a “Julep-Strainer” with a coil connected to perforations in the strainer’s flat plate. Lindley wisely aimed “to retain the particles of ice, sprigs of mint, pieces of fruit, &c, in the mixing-glass, so that the liquid poured into the drinking-glass shall be perfectly clear, small particles of ice being the most difficult to retain in the mixing-glass, and the most objectionable by far to fastidious drinkers.”

The design is quite a departure from the typical julep strainer, which looks like a shallow, short-handled slotted spoon. Julep strainers are the go-to choice for stirred drinks, which rarely have very small particles that need to be removed.

The additional of the coil is what allows for a tighter seal inside the mixing glass and is the breakthrough to the Hawthorne strainer and its use for shaken drinks.

Etsy store owner and blogger queenofsienna, has uncovered a treasure trove of older strainer patents, including Lindley’s 1889 patent, as well as various patented incarnations around the turn of the 20th Century. Perhaps if Lindley worked with a different marketing team we’d call these things Lindley Strainers.

The Lindley design shows up in modern versions of a coiled strainer but any strainer with a coil usually gets the Hawthorne moniker, sometimes misspelled by dropping the ‘E.’ It has to have that ‘E’! No one named Hawthorne was involved in any of this strainer business and nothing in any patent application mentions anything related to the name, but we know it’s a Hawthorne strainer because the original version spelled it out for us.

When William Wright patented his design for an improved strainer, he assigned the rights to Dennis P. Sullivan of Boston. We don’t know their official relationship, but it would not have been unusual for someone like Sullivan to hire Wright to create the design for the patent. Sullivan owned The Hawthorne Gentlemen’s Cafe and Restaurant at 24 Avery Street, around the corner from what was then the Tremont Theatre and is now the AMC Loews Boston Common.

Sullivan, who went by Dennie (and who apparently made a killer boiled dinner paired with Canadian beer), had a knack for marketing and heavily promoted his bar as well as selling the strainer under the Hawthorne brand.

He let every Harvard student know that a Hawthorne strainer was a must have for their home bar.

Manning, Bowman & Company manufactured the strainers in Connecticut, but with the punched holes spelling the name of his restaurant and his own name stamped on the handle, Dennie made sure everyone who held a Hawthorne strainer knew who was responsible for it.

Unfortunately, Dennie’s Hawthorne brand did not have a long tenure during his own life. In about 1896, the restaurant became the property of the James Everard’s Breweries, who retained the Hawthorne name. In 1902 it landed with a new group of owners, and that’s when things got messy.

The new owners, Herman C. Long, Frank A. Sanderson, and Robert J. Tracy, made an agreement for the three of them to own the restaurant but for Tracy to control the liquor license. Long and Sanderson couldn’t pay what they owed for their share and filed for bankruptcy in 1903. The group could not hold on to the liquor license and since Boston at the time had a limited number of liquor licenses, another person tried to get the license cancelled for The Hawthorne so they could get the license for their own use. This kicked off a legal battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

An interesting side note about this dispute is that one of the owners, Herman C. Long, shares a name with a professional baseball player who played with the Boston Beaneaters from 1890-1902. The bankruptcy dispute went down in 1903, the same year that Long shipped off to play for the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees). We don’t know if it’s the same person, but we really want this story to include the player with the Major League record for most career errors (1,096).

This legal dispute spelled the end of The Hawthorne at 24 Avery Street.

By 1905, the spot was a German restaurant called Housman’s Restaurant, in 1915 it served as a soup kitchen for the unemployed, and by 1921 the building was Hotel Avery. The block was demolished, and is now the Ritz Carlton Residences.

Memory of The Hawthorne faded away, as did the connection between it and the strainer used by every bartender.

The current incarnation of The Hawthorne at the Commonwealth Hotel pays homage to Dennie Sullivan’s restaurant, borrowing the original Hawthorne’s typography as well as William Wright’s coil design.

Although his restaurant didn’t last long, Dennie’s branding decision stood the test of time. The Hawthorne name stuck for good and serves as a good lesson – if it’s important, put your name on it.