In a recent phone interview with Sean Muldoon, co-owner of The Dead Rabbit in New York, something was uttered that you just wouldn’t expect a New Yorker or business owner to say. Completely on the record, down the line to a journalist with their pen poised, he said London was currently the most creative city for cocktails in the world.
And it’s true, London is having a moment, with a lot of young independent operators opening their first venues and showcasing their unique take on drinks. The more seasoned pros are responding as well, taking note of brand new, seemingly simple, drinks styles, venue layouts and pared-back menus. There are trends right now that instead of focusing on spirits or individual ingredients are capturing a particular style of drink. One that is light, fresh and quaffable.
It comes as a pleasant and gratifying surprise that this current creativity kick isn’t just happening in east London basements though, regardless of whether they opened in 2007 or 2017. It’s happening in some of our oldest and most prestigious cocktail bars as well. And the new menu ‘Every moment tells a story’ from The American Bar at The Savoy hotel encapsulates this perfectly.
This style of clean and light drinks currently sweeping the capital makes a bold step away from using citrus to bring balance. Seen in venues such as Three Sheets, Coupette, Super Lyan and Mint Gun Club, these cocktails go beyond limes and lemons, and instead employ tannins from teas, bitter amaros, acids found in fruit such as grapes, apples or rhubarb and flavours such as yuzu to achieve their fresh yet easy-drinking nature.
Apples at Coupette, a great example, has achieved a lot of success through the simple carbonation of clear apple juice with Calvados. However it’s the same bar’s wildly successful Champagne Pina Colada that has been twisted by the American Bar in its Like A Fish Out Of Water. With Chris Moore, Coupette’s owner, being part of The Savoy’s alumni, it shows a reactiveness and self-reflection you might not expect from a bar that’s been serving drinks for two centuries.
Using a base of rum, pineapple syrup, coconut liqueur and champagne, the ingredients in the American Bar's drink mirror the Champagne Pina Colada closely, yet unlike its inspiration this drink is clear and light.
Other drinks on the menu that follow the trend include The Dancer, White Nights, Curtain Call, Life and Times, Red Lips Rye and The Debut.
The menu also follows hot on the heels of lists like that from Bar Swift, which go small on the words and big on flavour and style. This menu may have a concept, but to understand it you don't need to bury your nose in the pages of the menu – just look at the walls.
Grounded in its own history and the iconic black and white portraits by British photographer Terry O'Neill, which have adorned the American Bar walls since the 1980s, the new drinks take inspiration from the famous pictures, attempting to turn a look, a meeting or a moment into liquid.
Starting off with a flavour map – one of the most useful and elegantly designed trends to have hit menus in the past few years – it charts through the drinks from light and delicate to dark and intense, meeting along with way the likes of Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, David Bowie, Judy Garland, Peter Sellers and Dudley Moore.
Being able to glance at the map and pick a drink based on style and intensity is incredibly valuable for consumers who can’t always read a list of ingredients and understand how they come together. In fact even seasoned drinkers and bartenders can get this wrong.
Cocktails come served on coasters designed to look like a camera shutter, both a nod to the theme and also to the modern drinkers’ habit of getting their cocktails up on Instagram before the first sip. It’s gimmicky, but stylishly executed.
The menu is also head bartender Erik Lorincz’s last one, as he is weeks away from hanging up his white jacket and leaving the American Bar on 2 May 2018.
Having joined the American Bar as head bartender when the hotel relaunched after extensive refurbishment in 2010, Lorincz has been a steady feature of the bar as it reclaimed its spot as a favourite of both Londoners and visitors alike. Recently awarded World’s Best Bar at World’s 50 Best, the American Bar has seen only ten head bartenders in its 125 year history. From Ada Coleman in 1903 and Harry Craddock in the 1920s to recent veterans, Joe Gilmore, Victor Gower and Peter Dorelli.
‘Erik will always be a head bartender of the American Bar and his legacy isn't just within The Savoy as he has set a standard globally for the profession of bartending,’ said bar manager Declan McGurk.