Hanky Panky cocktail at The American Bar
World Best Bar
Mar 12, 2019
26 November 2020
Served in an elegant martini glass, the drink is a variation on a martini, with a distinctive sweet twist. It’s made with the classic gin, vermouth, but the taste is changed completely with a few dashes of bittersweet Fernet Branca, a herbal Italian Liqueur. The recipe remained untouched for decades, until the addition of fragrant orange zest twist on the top, said to have been introduced around 2010.
The drink is the brainchild of the American Bar’s renowned female bartender Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman, who headed up the bar in the early 1900s. Ada came up with the drink in response to a request by actor Sir Charles Hawtrey.
The story behind the cocktail is revealed by Ada in a 1925 copy of The People newspaper:
“The late Charles Hawtrey… was one of the best judges of cocktails that I knew,” she said. “Some years ago, when he was overworking, he used to come into the bar and say, ‘Coley, I am tired. Give me something with a bit of punch in it.’ It was for him that I spent hours experimenting until I had invented a new cocktail. The next time he came in, I told him I had a new drink for him. He sipped it, and, draining the glass, he said, ‘By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!’ And Hanky-Panky it has been called ever since.”
You can have a taste of almost exactly the same drink Ada would have knocked up behind the bar, with a retro version of the Hanky Panky, made with 1967 Fernet Branca, 1950s Gordon’s or Booth’s Fine Gin, finished in Fino sherry casks, and 1950 Carpano sweet vermouth. This truly vintage cocktail is all yours, if you can part with £150. But if your purse strings won’t stretch that far, ask the bartender nicely and he or she will knock you up a cheaper, less vintage, alternative. You may think shelling out three figures for cocktail is absurd, but for serious cocktail drinkers, they’re paying for a true piece of global cocktail history, right in the London bar where it all began.