28 May 2007

Tom Collins

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Eric Felten, in his weekly cocktail column in the Wall Street Journal, supplies the history.

The Tom Collins … got its start in the 19th century, named after a notorious hoax that spread in the summer of 1874.

The original prank went something like this: A friend would run into you on the street and, with great concern, tell you he just overheard someone named Tom Collins at a bar down the street saying hateful and libelous things about you. You race to that bar to confront the bounder, where you would be told that Tom Collins had just left for a bar several blocks away. When you get there, Collins would already have decamped for another joint across town. As you chase all over the city, your friends convulse with laughter.

Soon, not in on the joke, newspapers in cities across the country were reporting on people trying to find the scurrilous fellow. “Tom Collins Still Among Us,” the Decatur, Ill., Daily Republican reported in June 1874. “This individual kept up his nefarious business of slandering our citizens all day yesterday. But we believe that he succeeded in keeping out of the way of his pursuers. In several instances he came well nigh being caught, having left certain places but a very few moments before the arrival of those who were hunting him. His movements are watched to-day with the utmost vigilance.”

When the papers realized it was all a gag, they got in on the act. The Daily Republican kept playing along for months, gamely reporting that Collins had been spotted in San Luis Obispo, Calif., on his way to Arizona. “Next spring,” the paper predicted, Collins “will jauntily enter the South American republics.”

It doesn’t take much to imagine how Tom Collins came to be a drink. How many times does someone have to barge into a saloon demanding Tom Collins before the bartender takes the opportunity to offer him a cocktail so-named? Indeed, you have to wonder if the whole Tom Collins stunt wasn’t a marketing gimmick to promote pub-crawling.


1½ oz gin
Juice of ½ lemon
¼-½ oz simple syrup, or 1-2 tsp. sugar
2-3 oz soda water.
Build on the rocks in a short highball glass (what was once called, appropriately enough, a “Collins glass”). Garnish, if you like, with cherry, and orange or lemon slice.


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