4 iconic American Bar bartenders that shaped history
Mar 12, 2019
Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman: 1903-1925
Ada, affectionately known as ‘Coley’ by her customers, made history at the bar during her epic 21-year stint. Coley took over the reins at the turn of the 20th century in 1902 and was highly praised for her work behind the bar. Whilst at the helm, she served the rich and famous, including Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin and the Prince of Wales. According to cocktail historian Ted Hughes, “Not only was Coley … a woman in the world of male bartenders, it was she who made the bar famous.”
Coley was not the only female behind the bar though, she was joined by Ruth Burgess, known as “Miss B” or “Kitty”, who started a year before in 1902. But according to newspaper clippings, they never worked a shift together in whole twenty years as Coley refused to give Burgess the recipes for her popular cocktails.
Coley’s drinks were not just popular, they were world famous. The most well-known is the bar’s signature drink, the Hanky Panky. Coley knocked it up for actor Sir Charles Hawtrey when he asked her for something with “a bit of punch” to wake him up. On drinking it Hawtrey said, “By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!” And Hanky Panky it has been called ever since.
After two decades pouring drinks at the bar, Ada announced her retirement when it closed for renovations in 1925, making way for the next legendary bartender to take the stage, Mr Harry Craddock.
Harry Craddock: 1925-1938.
Harry Craddock made a huge dent in cocktail history. Rumour has it that Mr Craddock poured the very last cocktail in the US before the prohibition ban took hold in 1920. He then jumped on a ship and headed over to the London’s Savoy Hotel so that he could continue to make his expert tipples.
He then went on to publish the world famous Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930, a vast collection of 750 cocktail recipes and corresponding illustrations that has since become a bartender’s bible. Although he didn’t necessarily invent them all, Craddock gets the credit for popularising many classic cocktails such as the White Lady and Corpse Reviver #2. The book is still widely popular and in circulation today. It’s so coveted that an original will set you back over £2000. If you don’t quite have the cash to spare, you can still see a 90-year-old copy in display in the American Bar’s museum.
Although Craddock is commonly known as an ‘authentic’ American bar man, this assumption is wrong. He was in fact English, born in Stroud, Gloucestershire in 1876, emigrating over to the states when he was 21.
Joe Gilmore, 1954 to 1975
This Belfast bartender was one of the longest running at American Bar, serving for 21 years (yep, the bar sure does have a low staff turnover). Joe started out as a trainee barman, earning £3 a week as an apprentice to Harry Craddock and worked his way up to head barman taking over the bar in 1954 – an event which made national news.
Gilmore was known as a barman to the stars, including bar regular Churchill, for whom Joe created his own bespoke cocktail, and in return Churchill gave him one of his iconic cigars “It didn’t last long,” Gilmore is quoted as saying. “I didn’t smoke it. But I kept on showing it to guests, and it soon turned to sawdust.”
Other famous faces the bartender served included Charles de Gaulle, Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra, who used to stop by for cheeky Dry Martini before his London shows. Gilmore was much sought after for his mixing skills and was often flown to a Caribbean island to mix cocktails for Princess Margaret.
The bartender is also famous for his Moonwalk cocktail, which was the first drink Neil Armstrong and co drank on their return from their historic moon landing. And then there’s his other world famous hangover cure, the Corpse Reviver cocktail, which Gilmore swore by … well, along with two aspirins!
Erik Lorincz, 2010-2018
The 125-year-old bar welcomed its tenth ever head bartender Slovakian-born Erik Lorincz in 2010 when The Savoy reopened after a huge 220m refurb. The award-winning bartender was hotly sought after and was offered the Savoy job over hundreds of other applicants, despite not even sending in an application! In the same year he scooped the coveted ‘Diageo World Class Champion’ award and soon followed a flurry of other global bar industry awards.
During his eight years in the role, Lorincz has achieved fantastic boozy things; creating many historical cocktails, including one to mark The Savoy’s official celebration of the Diamond Jubilee. He was also at the helm when the bar was awarded the ‘World’s Best Bar 2017’ title at World’s 50 Best last year.
There’s not really a higher accolade for a bar and that’s perhaps why Lorincz is stepping down from his role at American Bar in May 2018, leaving on a high, with plans to set up his own London bar (which we cannot wait to try). Meanwhile, the cocktail world waits in anticipation on news of Lorincz’s yet-to-be-announced successor. Following in the footsteps of such cocktail royalty, it’s clearly going to be someone pretty remarkable.