American Bar at The Savoy Hotel
The now-iconic Savoy Hotel in London was a glittering showpiece from the moment it opened its doors in 1889. The genius behind the hotel was theatrical impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, who brought his unique flair for the theater to the ambience and service at the Savoy.
An essential part of the Savoy experience was the wonderful American Bar that became both a showpiece and a major draw for the hotel. Helmed by the legendary barman Harry Craddock, who gained worldwide notoriety for his cocktail creations in the 1920s and 1930s, the American Bar was a hive of activity for writers, artists, performers, and politicians from all over the world. Craddock, however, was not the first talented cocktail wizard to grace the bar and make the Savoy one of the world’s top bars. That title belonged to a woman named Ada Coleman, who headed the bar from 1903 to 1925.
“Coley,” as she was known to her regulars, served her inspired drinks to just about everybody who was anybody, including Mark Twain, Diamond Jim Brady and the Prince of Wales. Her signature Hanky Panky (credited as the first drink invented at the Savoy) is her most-famous cocktail; it’s a fabulous mixture featuring equal parts gin and sweet vermouth. You can find the recipe at the end of this article.
Barman Harry Craddock was an avid collector of cocktail recipes. In 1930, at the request of the Savoy, he compiled The Savoy Cocktail Book, which was a collection of more than 2,000 recipes that Craddock amassed from his years as a bartender. 93 years later, The Savoy Cocktail Book is still in print and is still considered to be one of the most important cocktail books of the 20th century.
Stylish and au courant, The Savoy hosted all kinds of society’s most glamourous and fashionable notables in the 1920s and 1930s, from royalty to Hollywood movie stars, to rock stars and politicians. One of the establishment’s first guests was world-famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was delighted to find her old friend August Escoffier heading up the hotel’s kitchen. Escoffier was perhaps France’s most famous and influential chef at the time. His culinary techniques are still being taught in cooking schools all over the world.
The Prince of Wales was a regular guest at the Savoy, as were mega-stars Al Jolson, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Bob Hope, and Marilyn Monroe. Contemporary music legends—Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Beatles, Rihanna, Duran Duran, and Taylor Swift, to name a few—have also spent a good deal of time at London’s most chic address.
The Savoy was one of the first hotels—and The American Bar was one of the first bars—to highlight the importance and appeal of a theatrical and well curated space for socializing. The “Roaring Twenties” ushered in a time of great social and cultural change around the world, especially in Europe (the U.S. was suffering in the restrictive yoke of Prohibition from 1920 to 1933) and the Savoy was one of the top cocktail bars in the world and a setting that embodied that change.
Ada Coleman created this cocktail for Sir Charles Hawtrey, a celebrated actor who was a frequent visitor to the bar. As the story goes, he asked for a drink with a punch. Coleman served him this bracing concoction, leading him to exclaim “By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!” The name stuck.
- 1 1/2 ounces gin
- 1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Fernet-Branca
- Garnish: orange twist
Combine the gin, sweet vermouth and Fernet-Branca in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.