DOTW: Savoy Special #1

Posted by Anita on 12.14.07 7:02 AM

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reservedBefore we get on to this week’s cocktail, we have two bits of housekeeping: (1) Enter to win a chance to bring Drink of the Week to your house by buying a virtual raffle ticket for our Menu for Hope custom mixology prize. (2) Please remember to vote today for your favorite finalists in the WellFed Food Blog Awards. If you’re a new visitor, here’s a handy link to just our drinks content.

It’s hard to think of Prohibition as any sort of positive force, but indeed there are a few improvements in the world of drinks that we can lay solidly at the feet of the Noble Experiment.

In the early years of the 20th century, the few females found in city taverns tended to be …professionals, of one sort or another. With the emergence of speakeasies, it became fashionable for daring young women to join their male friends for a night on the town. By the time of repeal, the presence of the fairer sex in bars was accepted fact in all but the most masculine enclaves.

Another odd side-effect of the dry years was the export of our uniquely American cocktail tradition to other climes. Rather than ply their trade with bathtub gin and other questionable potations, many mixologists took to the seas, heading for saner lands.

One such man, Harry Craddock, left New York in 1920 to become head barman at London’s famed Savoy hotel. Almost single-handedly popularizing the pantheon of mixed drinks in a land where strong ale was the roughest stuff poured, Craddock was obviously a force to be reckoned with. A beacon for ocean-hopping Yanks and Londoners alike, the American Bar’s popularity under his leadership drove the 1930 publication of a drinks manual called, simply, The Savoy Cocktail Book.

Amazingly, the Savoy’s current head barman, Salim Khoury, is only the seventh to hold the title since the 1890s. (There must be something in the, er, water?) He trained as assistant to the legendary Peter Dorelli, and has himself been employed at the American Bar since 1969. Perhaps even more remarkable, The Savoy Cocktail Book remains in print — an updated printing of the latest edition debuted last month — and the American Bar maintains its place as a London cocktail mecca… at least for those with the means to spend £12 ($25) or more on a single drink.

But like all legends of a certain age, the American Bar is in need of a spot of nip-and-tuck. Tomorrow night, in fact, the entire Savoy will close for a 16-month, £100 million restoration. No mention is made in press clippings of plans for the American Bar, specifically, but one must imagine that the hotel’s current caretakers realize the pitfalls of tampering too greatly with such an international icon.

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reservedSavoy hotel(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved

There are least four eponymous Savoy drinks to be found in Craddock’s book. Lacking the sloe gin needed to attempt the Savoy Tango, and the nerve required to build the Savoy Hotel, we were left with two versions of the Savoy Hotel Special Cocktail. Although variation #2 is distinctive, the original below is our preference.

Savoy Hotel Special Cocktail #1
2 oz dry gin
1 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes quality grenadine
1 dash absinthe
lemon peel

Shake* well and strain into a cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel on top.

* Traditional mixology calls for clear drinks to be stirred with ice, and cloudy drinks (those with dairy or juice, in the main) to be shaken — a guideline that appears to be disregarded not just here but in numerous recipes throughout The Savoy Cocktail Book.

The preface to the 1999 British edition (and possibly others) adds to the confusion. After quoting Peter Dorelli on the subject of the proper way to chill a drink — “…the ice should travel the length of the shaker, so that you awaken the drink. If you don’t do this, you are cheating…” — the unnamed prologuist informs us that “There are, in fact, three ways of shaking a cocktail: If opaque or cloudy, shake it; if clear, stir gently; if solid, blend it.”


He seems to be using “shaking” as a synonym for “chilling and diluting”. But, then, why are there plenty of recipes that clearly call for a stir?

Obviously, some in-person investigation is required, perhaps a direct follow-up with Mr. Khoury himself. Who’s up for a London trip in, say, spring 2009?

Drink of the Week, drinks



Comment by Happy Cook

Wonderful cocktail. I have everything at home except absinthe.

Posted on 12.14.07 at 7:46AM

Comment by scomorokh

I think that you stir your Savoy Special #1. Or fotosession continued so long time.

Some days ago I try great and some similar cocktail – Gloom Raiser:

I think it is interesting idea to compare stirred and shaken variants of this cocktail.

Posted on 12.15.07 at 3:23AM

Comment by Natalie - The Liquid Muse

Hello Anita,
Love your piece here. I went to the savoy this summer – very exciting to visit such a famous bar. Unfortunately, Salim was not there that night. :-(

Anyway, wanted to tell you that you can buy “mixing new orleans” here:

Kind regards,
Natalie (aka: The Liquid Muse)

Posted on 12.15.07 at 7:29AM

Comment by ilva

I’m so happy that you won, it’s nice when quality wins! Congratulations!

Posted on 12.17.07 at 10:00AM

Comment by dietsch

You won! Congratulations!

Posted on 12.17.07 at 11:02AM

Comment by Kalyn

Congratulations on the food blog award! I’m so happy you won.

Posted on 12.17.07 at 11:30AM

Comment by cookiecrumb

Hey, when are you going to brag? Jeez!

Posted on 12.17.07 at 5:49PM

Comment by Tartelette

Congratulations on winning! I am glad my voted counted!!

Posted on 12.17.07 at 11:38PM

Comment by Jay Hepburn

Damn – I had meant to pop by the Savoy before it closed to have a cocktail or three… I didn’t realise it was closing quite so soon though. See you in 2009 then.

Congrats on the blog award too – much deserved!

Posted on 12.18.07 at 2:38AM

Comment by Thomas Crubaugh

Hi Anita,

Congratulations on winning. You are in good company with Michael Ruhlman and won over other great cocktail bloggers such as CocktailChronicles through which I found you weeks ago. While exploring your site, I was just looking at your pictures on flickr and saw the Becca-cino. I searched your site for it but came up empty. It’s in your Zig-Zag set. What is it? I love the mood your pictures set for the Zig-Zag even the women’s room picture adds to the tone. I want to go there but is that what I need to do to find out what the Becca-cino is?

Keep up the good work, the kudos are well deserved (even if Paul is jealous.)

Posted on 12.19.07 at 4:11PM

Comment by Joan

We spent Christmas in Alameda (across the bay from you) and went to St.George Spirits out at Hangar One. My sister-in-law, who lives there, was ordering a bottle of absinthe for a birthday present for my son later this month. So, I have been looking around for cocktail recipes using it to send to him. I happened across your recipe by accident since I am also participating in the Dark Days Challenge. Thank you for the great pictures and descriptions.

Posted on 01.16.08 at 9:19PM

Comment by Anita

Oh my gosh, Joan — did you guys wait in the hours-long line to get a bottle of the St George absinthe? Brave!

If you want more absinthe recipes, there are a lot floating around the blogosphere at the moment for obvious reasons. :) Any recipe that calls for pastis or pernod was probably originally meant to use absinthe. I’d suggest the sazerac ( as a classic preparation that no absinthe drinker should skip, and the Friday After Five is gorgeous — and Bergamots are in season in California right now:

But my absolute favorite drink using absinthe right now is the A La Louisiane:

Posted on 01.17.08 at 7:32AM

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