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Maurice Chevalier and the eternal Boulevardier

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Maurice Cevalier, aka the voice of the Aristocats theme song.

I'm sorry to report that my redbud is dead, victim, apparently, of last year's scorching summer. But the huisache is blooming, spring has otherwise sprung, and for some reason, Maurice Chevalier just popped into my head — he with the straw boater rakishly askew, he of Gigi's eternal spring … he who wistfully declared "Oh, I'm so glad that I'm not young anymore."

At any age, but especially in the twilight of Gigi, Chevalier was the ultimate boulevardier, a sophisticated man about town who would look equally at home in an Easter parade or a chic salon, and though no one suggests that the drink that happens to be called The Boulevardier was named after Chevalier (it is actually tied to Erskine Gwynne, a socialite American writer who edited The Paris Boulevardier, a literary review) it was at least concocted in Paris (by another expat) during our Prohibition and Chevalier's early vaudeville years. The Boulevardier has become a favorite at my house, not least because it blends continental sophistication with classic American booze, but also because it admits of so many variations. It is, almost, idiot-proof.

The original recipe from Harry's New York Bar in Paris is listed in Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, and it calls for 1 1/2 ounces of bourbon, the quintessential American spirit; you could certainly start with it. I'm indebted, however, to Manhattan bartender and New York Times spirits columnist Toby Cecchini for the variations on an original theme that appear below. If you think Negroni with brown booze subbed for white, congratulations: you may be on your way to person-about-town status.

The Boulevardier

2 ounces bourbon or rye (rye, which I prefer, is a little more assertive; Old Overholt is fine)
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet red vermouth (Carpano Antica is a good start)

Measure liquor into a mixing glass filled with ice and stir vigorously. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

But here's where it gets fun: You can break the bitter Campari component up into parts, subbing 50 percent of it with another amaro such as the Sicilian Averna. You can also play with the sweet by mixing the Carpano with, say, Cinzano Rosso, then throwing it all into a rocks glass. The basic recipe is very good, but the drink as modified is killer. Your buds will be bustin' out all over — even if "forever more is shorter than before" and Methuselah is your patron saint. R.I.P. Maurice. •

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