About a year ago, after a long flight from San Diego to London, I dropped off my things at the Zetter Hotel and had just enough time to enjoy a restorative meal at neighboring restaurant St. John before meeting a couple of cocktailians friends. I suggested starting our cocktail adventures at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel. Going to the Savoy felt surreal in many ways. I had read so much about it, and of course when you are there you cannot help but think about all of the history. I had followed with great interest the events around the 50th anniversary of Harry Craddock‘s death that had been chronicled by Erik Ellestad on his blog. Being able to finally go there was a little overwhelming.
Norman Conquest on the left, White Lady on the right, and Ruby Bullet in the back
After crossing through the lobby of the Savoy Hotel and its black and white checkered floor, a long hallway led us to the main room of the American Bar. It is dominated by a piano, and could use maybe a little more charm or character. The bar itself is located at the very back and is quite small and breathtakingly beautiful with its art deco mirrors, but sadly it’s not well visible from most of the space. When we got there, the piano was silent which I lamented about, but regretted as soon as the piano player started what was, without a doubt, a nod to my visit with a rendition of the Beach Boys’ California Girls, followed by Hotel California (not the Eagles, man, anything but the Eagles…). I would have thought that jazz music from 20s or 30s would have been more appropriate, but what do I know…
We got our drinks which were large. The White Lady seemed to contain a touch of absinthe (hopefully this was intentional and not the result of a dirty shaker…) which was actually a nice touch. The gin used was Bombay Sapphire, not my first choice as it lacks personality. The egg white foam was a little bit thin, not a thick luscious cloud. It looks like I am nitpicking, but we all agreed that there was something that was not quite right in the overall taste and balance, and the cocktail did not feel crisp and bright as it should have.
The Ruby Bullet (aquavit, lemon juice, simple syrup, angostura bitters, soda) was an interesting and adventurous choice from one of my drinking companions. It tasted like champagne with bitters. Not offensive but completely forgettable. The caraway from the aquavit was barely noticeable; it was diluted down with soda.
The Norman Conquest with its calvados & bourbon combo was the best drink of the group, although it could have benefited from a more distinctive sweet vermouth than Martini Rosso, and also more of it. I would not mind having one again in the future; with minor tweaks it would have been great. It reminded me of a practically identical cocktail by Sam Ross called the Grandfather, an excellent riff on that Manhattan. After doing some reading about the Norman Conquest, I found out that this was the drink that Erik Lorincz had decided to seal into a flask and bury in a wall at the Savoy during a recent renovation, following a long tradition started by Harry Craddock. Apparently he does a version of that cocktail with Scotch, which sounds really nice too.
Midway through my drink, I worked up the courage to go to the bar and introduce myself to demigod Erik Lorincz, whom we had seen making his entrance earlier, and dragged one of my drinking companions along with me (I did not have to ask her twice). We saw him prepare a couple of drinks including one he finished with a spray of violet liqueur, and got to observe his shaking technique first hand (it’s a beautiful thing). He listened politely to my babbling; we realized in the process that we had not just one, but several common friends named Erik, and at the end of our discussion he very nicely agreed to sign my copy of the Savoy Cocktail Book.
Then we went back to our table and, after finishing our drinks, decided to cut our losses (at ~ $25, drinks are not exactly cheap) and move to a place with cocktails that would be more to our liking. (No offense, Erik. In his defense I should make it clear that he was not the one preparing our drinks that night.)
Before leaving, we paid a visit to the bar museum and admired the collection of vintage bottles and memorabilia.
- The cocktail menu at the time of my visit was very similar to this one