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The Hawthorne Strainer: A Bit of Boston Cocktail History

(Some of you may know about this information from David Wondrich, but I had kicked off this discovery in 2011 and I wanted to share the journey here in full.)

A few years ago I picked up an antique cocktail strainer at the Brimfield Antique Show. Listed as an “Antique Tea Strainer” for $18, there was no way I was leaving without it. I bought it for $15 because I want to haggle for everything at Brimfield, but easily would have paid double, triple, or much more. One doesn’t stumble across these too frequently, especially not in such great condition.

Guilt washed over me as I walked away with an item I clearly underpaid for, but the seller was an antique dealer, so he should have done his homework before woefully mislabeling and underpricing the strainer. Sorry, brah. As you can see from the picture, it is so obviously a Hawthorne strainer. It literally spells it out.

But what was the real story of this strainer? Was it just an early version, or one of the originals, or maybe a reproduction? Internet research about antique Hawthorne strainers and Hawthorne strainers in general provided some useful information, especially when I found more information about the patent, from the fabulous Museum of the American Cocktail. Issued on October 11, 1892 to William Wright of Boston and assigned to Dennis P. Sullivan, also of Boston.

Notice in the patent drawings (and also in the patent text) that nothing about the name Hawthorne comes up. The punched out name on the production models isn’t in the patent drawings. That’s what I wanted to find out. It’s clear that the strainer could be called a Hawthorne strainer because of the punched out name, but whose name was that? Who was Hawthorne? The assumption was that there was a company named Hawthorne making these strainers. Wrong.

What provided the breakthrough wasn’t anything about strainers or the inventor, William Wright, it was Mr. Sullivan and the address stamped on the back of the strainer: 24 Avery Street Boston, Mass. Following that path, I came across an ad for a bar in an 1896 version of the Harvard Advocate.

There it was. The Hawthorne. Mr. Sullivan had been making the strainers and named them after his bar. There was no Hawthorne corporation making them or any guy named Hawthorne involved at all. Sullivan was also selling them as an indispensable tool for students. If only college students were as smart these days.

After finding out the truth behind the name, I wanted to know more about the bar. First, it is no longer around. It was just off Boston Common, but the building that housed it has been replaced by the Ritz Carlton residences. If you have a drink at Avery Bar, you might be sitting right near where the first Hawthorne strainer was used (I wonder if they even know).

Second, the bar made it to the Supreme Court! Dennis P. Sullivan apparently died in 1896, and the bar passed to the Everard Breweries Company who kept the Hawthorne name. In 1902, Everard sold the bar to Herman C. Long, Frank A. Sanderson, and Robert J. Tracy. Tracy became sole owner in 1903. And soon after, the whole thing dissolved into bankruptcy and a series of very boring court cases that ultimately reached the Supreme Court. We don’t know much about these guys except that Herman C. Long may have been the Herman C. Long who was a professional baseball player. Long played for the Boston Beaneaters from 1890-1902. He has the dubious distinction of holding the Major League record for the most errors in a career: 1,096. Ouch.

Isn’t it a shame that the Red Sox were the Boston team to remain throughout the years? The Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves) is a way better name.

That’s pretty much where the story goes cold. I haven’t been able to find out more about the bar after about 1903. And I haven’t been able to find any pictures. There must be more out there, so if you have any leads, please share them in the comments.

There’s just one more thing to add. One of our favorite bars in Boston, and one of the best bars in the world, Hawthorne, revived the name and borrowed some of the original Hawthorne’s font for their logo, which is fantastic.

And on that note, I’ve noticed that Hawthorne doesn’t have any old strainers on display. I’m willing to do some trading… I picked up a second old Hawthorne that’s seen better days.

We love comments! Please leave some. Have you seen other antique strainers? Do you have any additional info? Do you have one? Want to start a club? And for the record, now you no longer have an excuse to refer to one of these as a Hawthorn without the ‘e.’ Looking at you, CocktailDB.