The Mysterious History of an Underrated Bar Tool

Inside the origin of the Lewis bag

A Lewis bag can be useful when making juleps.
Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Does your home bar include a Lewis bag? Some of you may be reading this and nodding along; others might just be thinking, “Wait, what’s a Lewis bag?” The short answer to that question is a type of sturdy bag that’s designed to hold ice while it’s crushed into a form ideal for certain cocktails. If you’re making a mint julep, for example, you might want to have a Lewis bag on hand.

How, exactly, did the Lewis bag come about — and how did it become an essential, albeit under-utilized, tool for many a bartender? That’s the subject of a recent investigation at VinePair. In the article, Robert Simonson — a guy who’s written plenty of books about the history and creation of excellent cocktails — ventures into the tool’s history and helps explain why it matters.

That said, there isn’t necessarily a lot of history out there to review. “Who Lewis even was — if it was a person at all — is a mystery,” Simonson writes. Some bartenders believe that the Lewis bag hearkens back to a time when large blocks of ice needed to be shattered into drink-friendly portions — but, as Simonson notes, there’s no solid evidence to either prove or disprove this theory.

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What Simonson did find were some clues that the name of the Lewis bag might only go back a few decades. The idea of finding something sturdy to use when crushing ice does have a long history — and his article includes references to bartenders using everything from towels to Ritz-Carlton shoe bags for this purpose.

It’s a fascinating look at an ambiguous piece of bartending history — and a moment where the legend may well have ended up printed, as the saying goes.


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