Last Monday, Maxim Schulte, head bartender at the American Bar at The Savoy Hotel, posted on Instagram announcing his resignation from that prestigious role. That same day, The Savoy’s director of bars, Declan McGurk, announced his own departure from the hotel; other bartenders from The Savoy bar teams have since given leave, as well. With change on the horizon, we called Schulte to discuss his decision to say goodbye to the American Bar, what he learned during his time there, and his plans for the future
In your Instagram announcement, you wrote that you weren’t able to ‘align [your] vision and goals with the future structure and plans of The Savoy’. Are you able to elaborate on that?
Maxim Schulte: Well, there are these codes of conduct we have to sign, so we're not really able to talk about any details. I guess what I can say is that the hotel took a specific course to come back out of this lockdown, and the course has something to do with a massive restructuring of the hotel. The details of this restructuring are not something I can agree with – not necessarily because of my own role, but also what they did to the rest of the team. I had to make a decision and say this is not something I can put my name under and agree with. So I had to unfortunately pull the plug and leave.
And you obviously aren't the only one who felt that way. You’ve had several coworkers who have also announced that they are leaving...
I believe that everyone has to make their own choice, and that they will be successful wherever they go.
Did you discuss your decision with your team before you left?
What I said to the team [after I made the decision] was [that] unfortunately I cannot agree with how the hotel values the work that all of us have put into place. Their decision shows that the value they have for the bar roles are different to what I have for them, hence I had to step back. I think this is the best for all of us because I don't want to go back to a workplace where I… if I do not believe in the cause of the place, then I'm not the right person to be there.
How would you characterise your time at American Bar?
I don't want to go back to a workplace where I… if I do not believe in the cause of the place, then I'm not the right person to be there
Working in the American Bar is a very unique experience. I'm just very grateful that I was able to scratch my name on the surface of the American Bar and work with such a fantastic team. The people are there not for the salary, but for a dream that we all share, and I think that was absolutely incredible.
How did your bartending style change during your time as head bartender there?
My bartending changed in that I got so much input from all around the world, especially from our guests, getting the experience of learning about palates and skills and techniques from everywhere.
London is quite a unique bar playground as well, where palates are quite refined. [Working in London requires] constant development, and my bartending definitely improved.
Also, the American Bar is, in fact, a very, very high volume bar. The volume is unbelievable, and producing high quality cocktails like a machine for 10 hours straight is a very valuable lesson to apply to any other place I might be working in the future.
Speaking of which… we know it’s probably too soon to tell, but do you have any idea of what you’d like to do in the future?
The people are there not for the salary, but for a dream that we all share, and I think that was absolutely incredible
As you said, it's not been long enough to have anything else on hand, but I would like to work in a job that fulfills me. I've been in hotel careers before, obviously as bar manager and beverage manager, so there is an idea to go back to that, but I would also be interested to work with brands or on a smaller project like a standalone bar, and put my whole heart and effort into that – somewhere I feel I can make the guests happy and be a good leader of a team. And to produce something that's appreciated. That's really what I want.
Are you looking to stay in London?
London is definitely on my priority list. Markets around the world right now are very bleak, so I would have to go where the jobs are, but I'm pretty sure there will be opportunities coming up in London and I'm not in a big rush at this stage. I love London. But the virus comes along and you have to deal with it.
You created The Booze Brain project during lockdown [along with former Beaufort Bar senior bartender Jo Last]. Is that something you plan on continuing in the future?
We did it for the lockdown when everybody was in limbo, but [now] people have to focus on what the future looks like and what they want to do. The platform is still open and accessible to everyone. Brands or [people] can approach us and say ‘I want to hold a session’, and we'll be very happy to give the space over. So it's not dead, not disappearing, but for the moment it's just floating around with us. An idea is to possibly expand it, but we're going to have to see how these plans work out.
So it’s to be decided?
Yes, to be decided…
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The Savoy has declined to comment.