As cocktail books go, The Savoy Cocktail Book is neither precise -- it contains numerous forgotten ingredients (you mean an Aviation uses Crème de Violette?!) and botched measurements -- nor original, as it cobbled together recipes from numerous other sources without any credit whatsoever. Despite the aforementioned facts, the book, which was originally published in 1930, tops the list of "must-have" cocktail compendiums for many bartenders, not only because of its thoroughness but because of its ability to capture an era of refinement, elegance, and above all, cocktail glory. And the tongue-in-cheek advice therein ain't bad either.
Tonight, San Francisco bartender Erik Ellestad will bring a little bit of the Savoy to life at the Eveleigh, where he'll mix Savoy cocktails and, as he says, "spread the gospel according to Harry."
The "Harry" to whom he refers is Harry Craddock, loosely-termed "author" of The Savoy Cocktail Book and second bartender at the Savoy Hotel, following Miss Ada Coleman, who reigned over the bar from 1903 to 1924. And, while Craddock may be guilty of poor measuring skills and recipe plagiarism, he cannot be accused of being humorless. His advice when asked how to drink a cocktail was thus: "Quickly, while it's laughing at you!"
For Ellestad, who was working in the IT industry when he was seduced by cocktailiana, Craddock's amusing tone was part of what made the Savoy accessible to someone who, like him, was not yet a bartender by trade.
As Ellestad recalls, "I considered all the cocktail books I had in the house and The Savoy Cocktail Book seemed the most doable, from an ingredient and recipe point of view. Not too exotic and not too distant historically. I liked the pictures and recipes in the book, but didn't really appreciate its historical importance until I actually started to do more research while making the drinks and writing about them."
The barman had no idea how a blip of an idea would blossom into an entire blog (Savoystomp.com), plus monthly Savoy Cocktail Book nights at Alembic Bar in San Francisco, and a part-time job bartending at Heaven's Dog, also in San Francisco. What started out as a way to chill out after long days in the IT world has become a way of life, and now Ellestad's position in the cocktail community is intimately tied to the Savoy, its drinks, and its preservation of a bygone time.
At Eveleigh's Back Bar tonight, you'll find Ellestad mixing and shaking up at least five of the book's drinks, spotlighting Beefeater and Plymouth gins. Your choices will include the renowned Hanky Panky (gin, sweet vermouth, Fernet Branca) created by Coleman, as well as the English Rose, the Sensation, the Twin Six, and the stalwart Pink Gin with your choice of bitters courtesy of local purveyor Miracle Mile Bitters.
However, should you request the Bunny Hug Cocktail (gin, whisky, absinthe), it is likely that Mr. Ellestad will give you the same advice as Mr. Craddock does in the book, that being "this cocktail should immediately be poured down the sink before it is too late." Makes you want to try one, right?
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Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book "Gin: A Global History." Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.