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Bartending- A Brief History Part II

We left off with Jerry Thomas and we’ll sail right past his undeniable influence over the Atlantic and into the 20th Century, with the likes of Ada Coleman presiding over the bar at Claridges, then famously the Savoy. Spirit forward drinks such as her Hanky Panky cocktail were in vogue, and as the 20’s ground to a halt in North America with Prohibition, they roared in Europe with expats and their greatest gift; The American Bar.

Literary luminaries such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein and Pound elevated the bartender to a revered figure through their literature as the Lost Generation found a home swathed across the cafes of Paris, hotels of London and taverns of Spain. For those that stayed in the Americas, the speakeasy reigned supreme, forced underground by the law and made to innovate due to a glut of bad booze. Most didn’t survive, as the professional bartenders absconded to Europe to perfect their craft. Harry Craddock was the most famous of these, training under Coleman at The Savoy before heading up the American Bar and publishing the still widely read Savoy Cocktail Book.

Those that didn’t sail East went South in their droves, with Havana becoming a haven for bartenders and their wealthy clientele alike, spawning classics such as The Presidente, Hotel de Nacional and Mary Pickford, and its own dedicated class of professional bartender; The Catineros.

Havana had a profound effect on many of the returning American bartenders after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, not least a young man named Ernest Raymond Beaumont Grantt, better known by his adopted moniker, Donn Beach. Donn the Beachcombers was unlike anything the world had seen, with a collection of flotsam, jetsam and influence from the Pacific Islands, Hawaii, the Caribbean and Cuba mashed together in a melting pot of tropical escapism, during the Depression era when most Americans could only dream of a holiday. The wizards making the drinks were known as Donn’s ‘Four Boys’, his Filipino bartenders, who despite their prowess were relegated from centre stage to behind closed doors, shielded from view to closely guard Donn’s secret concoctions. 
The transition from craft to commercialism that dominated the middle parts of the 20th Century equally affected the hospitality industry, with a notable lack of excitement until the late 80’s when a young man named Dale DeGroff started his rise to prominence at The Rainbow Room inside The Rockefeller Center in New York. Bucking the trends of the times, DeGroff opted for fresh ingredients and the revival of lost classics in place of neon and sugar, staples that we now take for granted on our weekly order sheets, cocktail lists and rail dockets.

The platform was laid back in New York, arguably where it all began, and from that base names like Petraske, Regan, Reiner, Saunders, Bradsell and Calabrese helped mould the industry as it looks today. An industry where bartenders were revered and celebrated both by their peers and wider public alike, not just for the drinks they made but for what they offered in the third space for many often looking for it, a home, a respite, salvation, however temporary.

The last word is to Gaz, who knew more about people than he did about drinks.

“Drinks are not the main reason to tend bar,” he said in an interview with Drink magazine in 2018. “The most important thing a bartender can do is make people smile.”