Great Dames of Booze
Great Dames of Booze
As a woman lucky enough to be leading a team of many and varied great folk at Archie Rose, I am forever grateful to the women that have come before me. And so begins a dossier in tribute to these grand dames, starting with the tales of Madame Clicquot and Ada Coleman.
Around the same time that gin recipes were being refined in London, across the pond a 21-year-old noblewoman married into the Clicquot champagne family and thus become the title, Madame Clicquot. She learned all aspects of the production of champagne and the administration of the business from her husband Francois which proved fruitful when at the age of 27 he died. Madame Clicquot therefore took the reins, turning the business which became known as Veuve Clicquot (Widow Clicquot) into a global leviathan. She is credited with creating the first Vintage Champagne and the first Rose Champagne (and several innovations in the production methods of the house). A prolific networker (she penned over 100,000 letters in her lifetime) and a public relations master she worked the brand to international fame, and in her own lifetime, it became a powerhouse brand. 150 odd years after her death it is still to this day one of the most identified and iconic brands in the world.
The last two years of her life were crossed over with a young bartender Ada “Coley” Coleman. Ada Coleman was a lone woman in what was most certainly a man’s world. There were some women in pubs - usually family of the publican - and most of the time under 25, but women in cocktail bars or high end restaurants was unheard of. But Ada went to tend the bar at the Savoy and eventually became the head bartender (it took another century for the second woman to take that title).
Few bars have stood the tests of time and maintained their fame as the American Bar at the Savoy, but it was in part to Coley that the bar became so famous. It resided in that magical world between the moneyed upper classes and the scandalous thespians who kept the West End entertained. Coley threw parties of legend, and kept the wealthy lubricated. She mixed fancy drinks arriving by the day from the American New World, before prohibition, and the new ones that landed afterwards. The heyday of cocktails was served at least in the UK, by Ada Coleman. All bartenders hope to leave the world with a famous drink - and she left us with a doozy. Coley had a regular Charles Hawtrey, an actor, director and producer. Hawtrey was very famous then, but her drink will last longer. He complained of being tired and requested something with a bit of punch in it. She played around for a bit and came up with a bitter, boozy, beautiful beast. A shot of gin and a shot of sweet vermouth, so far so Gin and It, but then she spiked its velvet caress with a couple of dashes of Fernet Branca. Fernet Branca has lost count of its ingredients, or at least they don’t tell us exactly what’s in it. But it’s incredibly bitter and herbaceous. Just the ticket to take the edge off the cloying sweetness of the vermouth. Garnished with an orange twist. It’s perfection in a glass. And as Hawtrey described it “the real Hanky Panky”. Coley went on to train Harry Craddock. Craddock became the next celebrity bartender at the Savoy and some ten years later wrote what is still regarded as one of the cocktail books of influence. In it he featured his mentor’s drink, the Hanky Panky, a drink that is still on the list in the bar today.
If you haven’t tried a Hanky Panky and enjoy drinks in the Negroni/Manhattan part of the spectrum you will love the Hanky Panky. Drink it and bid cheers to these women who have changed our drinking for the better.
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