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The History of the Cocktail and the Palo Alto Tavern: Where It All Began

Discover the history of the cocktail and its connection to the old Palo Alto Tavern in Bladensburg, Maryland. Learn about the famous guests, the cocktail's claimed birthplace, and the duel that was responsible for its invention.
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Palo Alto Hotel and Saloon - September 19th, 1899
Palo Alto Hotel and Saloon – September 19th, 1899

Source: DC Public Library

Above is a great photo that we dug up on Flickr. The saloon above is the famous old Palo Alto Tavern, formerly located in Bladensburg, Maryland. It was across the street from the George Washington House (still standing), also known as the Indian Queen Tavern.

According to a Washington Post article published on May 11th, 1956, the Palo Alto Tavern was frequented by President Andrew Jackson, was famous for cock fighting, and its claimed that the cocktail was born here. The historical newspapers also cover numerous Republican Party rallies and meetings being held in the hotel.

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Here’s another shot of the saloon that we found on Flickr.

Palo Alto Hotel
Palo Alto Hotel

Source: Bladensburg Archaeology Project

We were a little skeptical about the claims of the hotel being the birthplace of the cocktail. It may or may not be true, but we did find a great article from the Washington Post, published on December 20th, 1908. Below is an excerpt from the article and you can click on the image after it to read the whole thing.

Meanwhile you are probably recalling my statement that the modern cocktail was invented in 1846, and wondering how I will prove it. Attacking the subject in the scientific manner, we find that it breaks up into definite questions, to-wit:

1. When was the cocktail invented?
2. By whom?
3. Where?
4. Who was present?
5. Who drank the first cocktail?
6. Who gave it its name?

My answers to these questions are as follows, viz.:

1. On the 17th of April, 1846, at 8:15 a. m.
2. By John Welby Henderson, a native of North Carolina
3. At the old Palo Alto Hotel, at Bladensburg, Md.
4. Colonel Denmead Maglone, U. S. A.; Hon. George William Mattingly, member of Congress from Georgia, and Messrs. J. Upton Benson, Frederick G. Allison and John A. Hopkins, besides the aforesaid Henderson.
5. John A. Hopkins, of Fairfax, Va.
6. I don’t know

Click the image below to read the full story.

History of the Cocktail: Intellectual Bartender Recalls Duel That was Responsible for its Invention
History of the Cocktail: Intellectual Bartender Recalls Duel That was Responsible for its Invention
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