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The last hundred years have seen London become the cocktail capital of the world. But who are the key people who shaped it? And which bartenders are the ones to watch for the future? Alice Lascelles picks out some of the best
Bradsell was largely responsible for steering London away from cocktail umbrellas and piña coladas in the early 1980s, and leading a return to more pared-down classics. Involved with legendary drinking holes such as the Groucho and the Atlantic Bar, the launches of Lonsdale and Match are also on his CV, along with a stint at the delightfully seedy Green Fingernail in Soho.
Signature serve: The bramble is an enduring Bradsell classic, made with gin, lemon juice and blackberry liqueur over crushed ice.
Calabrese is something of a celebrity both inside and outside the bartending fraternity – he has even made drinks for the Queen. Having migrated from Italy’s
Amalfi coast to tend bars at luxury hotels such as The Lanesborough and Dukes, the sharp-suited maestro made his name with his classy Mayfair bar Salvatore@Fifty. Having been forced to close last
November, he’s now got new plans up his sleeve.
So watch this space...
Signature serve: Salvatore’s breakfast martini, made with gin, Cointreau, lemon juice and marmalade, has spawned imitations all over the world.
This bowtie-wearing former art student has been a force in the London cocktail scene for years, taking inspiration from perfumery, science and gastronomy. He recently opened his own bar, 69 Colebrooke Row, in Islington. Complete with a lab in the attic for making ingredients, this 1950s-style establishment produces exquisite drinks, often with playful twists, that stimulate every sense.
Signature serve: A perennial fave is the Spitfire, a mouth-watering peach and Cognac sour finished with white wine.
One of the all-time greats, Harry Craddock was head bartender of the Savoy’s American Bar throughout the 1920s and 1930s – arguably, the golden age of cocktails. American by birth, he arrived in London in the wake of Prohibition, helping to popularise the newfangled American style of bartending as well as sophisticated martini-style drinks. His Savoy Cocktail Book remains essential reading for bartenders to this day.
Signature serve: Whatever the cocktail, Craddock famously observed, the way to drink it is ‘quickly, while it’s still laughing at you’.
Widely regarded as the godfather of today’s bartending generation, Dorelli is best known for his 20-year reign at the Savoy. Having retired in 2004, he now devotes himself to educating the next wave of bartending talent, but his mix of intuition, tact and just a hint of mischief means he remains an example of old-school bartending at its best.
Signature serve: The Queen Mother was partial to his mix of two parts gin to one part Dubonnet; otherwise it has to be Dorelli’s Elyse cocktail, a blend of grapefruit and mango juice, orgeat syrup, limoncello, peach schnapps and gin.
This self-effacing Italian has been at the helm of the bar at The Dorchester for nearly 30 years, helping it to become a destination for lovers of gin and vermouth. A deft mixologist, heensures that everything from a spot-on Manhattan to the humblest glass of water feels like a five-star experience.
Signature serve: Morandin kickstarted the revival of the 18th-century gin Old Tom, so it would only be right to order a Martinez, a precursor to the martini, made with Old Tom, vermouth and vintage bitters.
You can’t call yourself a cocktail drinker until you’ve had at least one martini at Dukes hotel, preferably made at your table by Mr Palazzi himself. Having honed his art at top-flight hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental and the Paris Ritz, Palazzi found his niche at this boutique hotel bar in Mayfair, where he brings the cocktail hour to life with a mix of irrepressible charm, tableside theatre and some fabulously strong drink.
Signature serve: Martinis, of course. But make a special visit during the autumn truffle season to try his martini laced with homemade truffle infusion.
Behind the little-known gem of a bar upstairs at Rules you will find American Brian Silva, the kind of genial, silver-haired bartender who makes you want to pull up a stool and pour your heart out over a stiff drink or three. Formerly of The Connaught, Silva specialises in classic cocktails with a twist, served in strong measures and beautiful glassware.
Signature serve: Vermouth is his passion, so go for the Negronis made with gin, Campari and vermouth and a variety of tweaks (the addition of pear eau-de-vie is a winner).
Few bartenders have done more to revitalise the English tradition of the mixed drink. Punches strewn with his homegrown borage and lemon balm, 18th century port cobblers and colonial rum concoctions are the order of the day with Strangeway. A former protégé of Dick Bradsell and founder of Hawksmoor, he now heads the bar at Hix in Soho.
Signature serve: Punch à la Regent – a libation favoured by George IV, featuring sherry, rum, brandy, curaçao, pineapple syrup, lemon sherbet and green tea, topped with Champagne.
A cheeky demeanour and appalling jokes conceal one of the finest mixing minds in the business. Bourbon and vintage bitters are Burger’s speciality, so rock up to the Portobello Star for a Manhattan with a modern-day recreation of Abbott’s bitters, or the real-deal 19th century Boker’s bitters, if you’re feeling flush.
Manager of perennially popular rum shack Cottons in north London, Burrell has done more to champion rum in the UK than anyone else. Visit Cottons for a glass of his Reggae Rum Punch, made with fruit juices and Wray & Nephew Overproof.
As manager of the Coburg bar at The Connaught, Jenner has created one of the classiest watering holes in the capital. Service is outstanding but never overbearing, and the classic approach doesn’t preclude there always being an interesting new spirit on the backbar to try. Ask him to perform alchemy with an old fashioned.
Luxurious attention to detail is a hallmark of Kratena’s approach to mixing drinks. As head bartender at the Langham Hotel’s swish Artesian bar, he takes things to another level – whether it be with a hand-glazed rose petal garnish, a bespoke single-cask spirit, or stunning glassware.
Mant’s supremely elegant art-deco bar at Quo Vadis is distinguished by staff who match excellent drinks with a nice dash of personality. You could settle back in an armchair, but to relish the experience fully, get a front-row seat at the beautiful mahogany bar and sample the conversation too.
The best bartenders add a bit of unexpected spark to your evening – something to intrigue, excite or amuse. Step forward Roast’s Esther Medina, who has a passion for her art that’s infectious, and a skill with flavours that reveals classics in a whole new light.
LAB and LAB Townhouse have been the training grounds for many a top bartender, and the mother hen to them all is Mitchell. The no-nonsense Aussie boasts an encyclopaedic knowledge of cocktails and an irrepressible zeal that has even the most stubborn stick-in-the-mud trying new things in no time.
Tiny, perfectly formed bars are Perrone’s speciality. Formerly of Montgomery Place, he now manages the bijou Connaught Bar, which allows him to make every drink a gem. Vintage cocktail shakers, homemade ingredients, even recipes supplied on headed paper on request, make every visit to his bar truly memorable.