5. George Washington
Our first president was a pioneer in plenty of ways. He started the proud American tradition of bribing voters with booze (you're welcome, William Henry Harrison) when he passed out 144 gallons of hooch during his bid for the Virginia House of Burgesses. He also gave the US whiskey biz a major boon with his Mount Vernon distillery, which was the largest in America by the time of his death. And he was the Founding Father of ridiculous celebration receipts. The tab from the farewell party his troops threw him in 1787 makes Mark Cuban’s receipts look frugal, but it’s no wonder the guys went all out for General Washington. The dude was highly supportive of their daily whiskey ration, which is a real thing our military used to have.
4. John F. Kennedy
Even if you don’t know the JFK stories, you probably feel like you know the JFK stories. It wasn’t so much that Kennedy was into the drinking, though he did reportedly enjoy Bloody Marys and imported German beers, as much as it was the getting together with the ladies. His biographer Robert Dallek called him “a compulsive womanizer,” Senator George Smathers said “he was a great chaser,” and Congressman Frank Thompson said he got with “a smorgasbord of women.” It was anyone -- Wheaton College students, Marilyn Monroe, LA socialites connected to the mob, airline stewardesses, etc. JFK partied with them all, whether it was swimming in the White House pool with the interns, or having parties in Hyannis Port.
Though, I should also point out, he gets even more points for hanging out at a dinner party with Ian Fleming and spending the time drinking and brainstorming how to kill Castro.
3. Thomas Jefferson
The first American wine snob, Jefferson was reported to know more about wine than anyone else in the United States. After spending time learning about vineyards in France, he got very into all of the French wines, spending thousands and thousands of dollars on them for parties and himself, even when he didn’t actually have thousands of dollars. He built two vineyards at Monticello, basically just to mess around.
He would always drink three glasses of wine a day, though he didn’t like to pair them with food, so he’d have beer or cider with his meal, and then get down to it. He even had dumbwaiters set up in his home just so he could pull wines up from the cellar with minimum effort. His wife, on the other hand, brewed beer at Monticello, and believed that it “softens the cheeks, cheers the spirit, and promotes health” when consumed in moderation. But he didn’t just stick to the French stuff: as a recent article in Garden and Gun points out, “during his presidency alone... Jefferson spent the current equivalent of $42,000 on Madeira.”
2. Andrew Jackson
Jackson enjoyed quite the reputation in his early days. The man was such a legend in North Carolina (where he studied law) that one local issued this surreal statement: "Andrew Jackson was the most roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, horse-racing, card-playing, mischievous fellow that ever lived in Salisbury."
By most accounts, he had calmed down by the time he got to Washington, but he still knew how to show his friends a good time. His infamous inauguration rager got so out of hand, his staff had to put buckets of punch outside the White House so the hordes of revelers (who were not exactly upper-crust) would go home. And we have to imagine he was a good dude to have around in case of bar fights -- when Richard Lawrence tried to assassinate him in 1835, Jackson beat him so savagely with his cane that his aides had to tackle Lawrence partially for his own safety. Jackson was 67. God bless.
1. James Buchanan
Leave it to the nation’s only bachelor president to show DC how it’s done. He once scolded a liquor merchant for bringing tiny pints of Champagne. He spent most of his Sundays going to church... and then swinging by Jacob Baer’s distillery for provisions. He thought the Russian nobility were lame lightweights, while the lower classes were his kind of crazy. And of course, there was journalist William Forney’s incredulous rant about the president, which should be printed in all history books: "The Madeira and sherry he has consumed would fill more than one cellar and the rye whiskey that he has 'punished' would make Jacob Baer’s heart glad... More than one ambitious tyro who sought to follow his... example gathered an early fall."
That last part refers to hangovers, which Buchanan apparently never got. Unlike those ambitious tyros, we’re sure we can’t emulate him. But we can admire his tireless efforts to bring the party all day, every day.
(We'd like to extend a special shout-out to a few sources that were particularly useful for this piece, including Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, many presidential biographies and autobiographies, and of course, Davy Crockett's The Life of Martin Van Buren.)
Kevin Alexander is Thrillist's Food/Drink executive editor, and hopes to get to a point in his life where a massage and a shot of bourbon before breakfast seem acceptable. Follow his attempts to sneak into the Gridiron Club: @Kalexander03.
Kristin Hunt is a Food/Drink staff writer for Thrillist, and once dressed up as Dolley Madison in the fifth grade, because even then she respected her style. Follow her: @kristin_hunt.