Little Known London - The American Bar

  • Posted on 12th April 2017 by Guest - Emma

  • The Savoy Hotel opened for business on 6th August 1889, the brainchild of Richard D’Oyly Carte, the Gilbert & Sullivan impresario. It was a stroke of good fortune that a hotel was built at all. The D’Oyly Carte Society was gaining fans and followers from all over the world especially America. Richard was wary of copycats stealing his ideas in the United States, so decided to stage a D’Oyly Carte production of the Pirates of Penzance in New York. This not only stopped others trying to muscle in on his success but also gave him first hand experience of this city’s famous hospitality. He was impressed and delighted with the level of style, service and luxury that he experienced in New York hotels and so brought this idea back to London. This was about to shake up the London hotel scene for both Londoners and visitors alike. Out of what was a defensive move to save his eponymous opera company came the wondrous idea of the Savoy hotel. It was the first London hotel to encourage the London society to visit for drinks, dinners and dances and thereby becoming the place to be seen. It also became a respectable place for ladies to dine together, something that had not been possible any time before this.
    The American bar opened a few years later, offering American style drinks or cocktails. The Americans had revolutionised drinking habits; they were mixing different alcohols together in the same drink to create martinis and other cocktails. The English usually mixed alcohol with waters (soda, fresh or tonic) e.g. whisky and water or gin and tonic. In 1903, Ada Coleman or ‘Coley’, to her customers, was appointed bartender and it was during her time that the first of many famous cocktails were created. You can still ask for her ‘Hanky Panky’ today (oo, matron!). Harry Craddock, Ada’s successor, is possibly the most famous of the Savoy bartenders who gave us a fair few delicious and intoxicating cocktails but also compiled the legendary Savoy Cocktail book aka the bartender’s bible. It hit the bookshops on 21st October 1930. The American bar came into its own during US Prohibition; it’s amazing how many Americans needed to travel to London for business during this time!
    The American Bar at The Savoy is the longest surviving of the US-inspired bars and little has changed here since the days of glamorous movie stars enjoying a drink or two here. I like to play a Savoy version of the game ‘which historical figures would you like to invite for dinner?” I would include the following:  Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Rock Hudson, Fred Astaire, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Liza Minnelli, The Queen Mother and John Wayne. I would also get Ada and Harry back to oversee the cocktails and see if Richard D’Oyly Carte fancied seeing how far his hotel had come. Now, how many is that? Thirteen! We need Kaspar the Cat!

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