I have recently engaged in that most frustrating and futile of pastimes, arguing with someone on the internet.
And it all started with a cocktail.
Last week I had 24 hours to myself in London and was drawn, as though in a tractor beam, to The American Bar at The Savoy Hotel for a bit of Hanky Panky.
Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, hey?
Not quite. The Hanky Panky was invented by one Ada Coleman.
Ada, or “Coley” as she was known (some nicknames startle with their originality and wit, some, not so much), was head bartender at The American Bar from 1903 to 1926.
Seems her Dad had been a steward at a golf course that Rupert D’Oyly Carte frequented and when he died, D’Oyly got her the job his fancy pants Savoy Hotel.
D’Oyly’s family produced Gilbert and Sullivan operas so there were lots of actors and acting types hanging about, the early-20th century equivalent of partying with Super-Models I guess.
A word here about The American Bar.
The Savoy’s isn’t the only American Bar in the world, possibly not even the only one in London. It used to be a term used widely to describe a bar that sold cocktails made in the American way, as opposed to a pub, which you would never want in anything other than an English way.
But The Savoy’s American Bar, really is The American Bar and in 2016 was named Europe’s Best Bar. Good job team.
Anyway, Coley tended bar until 1926 when she was moved to the hotel’s flower shop. Not because she was off her game, but because Americans – who had given us all so much in their contribution to cocktails – fleeing their own oppressive alcohol-free regime in search of a decent cocktail, found themselves a little upset by the presence of a lady behind the bar.
Another crappy side-effect of Prohibition. Up until that point, roughly half of the bartending jobs in London were performed by women. Coley wasn’t even The Savoy’s only female bartender at the time
In our second ridiculous feud of this Hanky Panky post, Coley allegedly didn’t speak to her only female bartending colleague – Ruth Burgess – for twenty odd years and refused to share her cocktail recipes with her. Way to go on the supporting each other for success ladies.
Poor Ruth didn’t even get dispatched to the flower shop when ladies were moved out from behind the bar. She was just sacked. I guess her Dad didn’t know old Oily Cart and she’d just got there on her merits.
Anyway, Ruth and Ada were replaced by Harry Craddock who was the guy who really put the place on the map, writing The Savoy Cocktail Book which has influenced bartenders for generations.
Back to Coley. Setting the Ruth thing aside, by all reports she was a cracking bartender and The American Bar attracted a clientele that included Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Hawtrey, the stage actor and producer who mentored Noel Coward, and for whom the Hanky Panky was created.
And so to the Hanky-Panky. This, dear Readers, is not an IBA Official Cocktail so kind of doesn’t qualify for a Shake, Stir, Muddle One-for-the-Road-Test, but it is a damned fine cocktail and now sits in my personal Top 5.
I know. This is a BIG CALL.
But you should definitely try one.
It is Martini-ish, but Manhattan-esque. Negroni-like and The Last Word-y. As all really good cocktails though, it is like itself only and you could work your way through a dozen or more at The American Bar in search of its closest cousin and still declare that it doesn’t need to be like anything else, it is the distinctive Hanky Panky.
Please don’t order a dozen cocktails at The American Bar. Not only will you be unable to sashay down the stairs in the graceful manner of the stars who adorn the walls, but you will be out of pocket an eye-watering amount.
This is a cocktail experience to savour. It is good value, but not cheap.
And this is from whence my feud sprang.
I made a comment on a Facebook post regarding exactly how quiet good manners requires one to be in expressing one’s opinions about what the poor people should do to help themselves when one is approximately 22 years old and able to while away an afternoon sipping £20 cocktails at The Savoy, surrounded by one’s luxury-branded shopping bags.
My opinion is that one should be VERY quiet in said circumstances. That perhaps the staff at the bar – working, probably for somewhat less than your parents earn to support you in these leisurely afternoon endeavours – could be spared your views while they pleasantly and efficiently do their jobs.
Someone took exception to this (frankly, am still mystified by this) and I find myself engaged in that most 21st century of occupations, arguing on the Internet.
How does this happen? Was it the cocktail?
Fernet Branca definitely divides. It’s a bitter herbal Italian liqueur, the recipe dating back to the mid-1800s.
It’s a very strong taste, not to everyone’s palate (I don’t love it straight but can see how one might grow to appreciate it more with practice).
It is also the cause of another excellent Ridiculous Feud.
Back in 1960, German-born actress Betsy Von Furstenburg (being her stage name – her real name was the absolutely marvellous Elizabeth Caroline Maria Agatha Felicitas Therese, Freiin von Fürstenberg-Herdringen) spiked co-star Tony Randall’s on-stage drink with Fernet Branca.
Randall, clearly a bit of a Felix Unger in real life as well, assumed he was being poisoned with iodine and Betsy was apparently suspended from Actors Equity for time.
I have no idea why Randall would assume someone was trying to poison him when his drink tasted strange.
That aside, it wasn’t the Hanky-Panky’s fault, that was just Fernet Branca.
So we can’t blame the cocktail. For that, for my feud or Coley and Ruth’s.
Maybe the hotel?
You’d know The Savoy. It’s featured in many movies, including The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Entrapment and Notting Hill.
Interesting, in my cumulative 48 hours in London, I inadvertently went to three different places that people pointed out to me were used as locations for scenes from Notting Hill. I’m not sure doing a pilgrimage to the locations of a fun-but-hardly-brilliant 1999 Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant vehicle reflects well on me so let’s be clear that it was an accident, ok?*
(Although there is this clip which may PROVE MY POINT about keeping your obnoxious opinions quiet in public. Hmmm?)
Much cooler (cough) is to watch this 2011 Duran Duran clip for Girl Panic!
You’ve likely never heard Girl Panic! before but it sounds very much like they just remixed a bunch of bits of other Duran Duran songs from the 1980s so it feels comfortable and familiar (even for a rebellious soul like me who showed my non-conformity in the 1980s by wearing – wait for it – a badge that said “I Hate Duran Duran”. I was so counter-culture in my awkward mid-teens**).
Apart from seeing the fancy rooms that we couldn’t afford at The Savoy, Girl Panic! has 1980s super-models playing the guys in the band (except Andy Taylor of course, because he left after a Ridiculous Feud), getting wasted and hanging out with super models, while the guys themselves play Savoy staff.
It’s so post-modern.
So, I didn’t know Andy Taylor had left the band, I had to Google who Yasmin Le Bon was playing and that’s how I found out that not only had A-Tay left, but that Roger Taylor, John Taylor and Andy Taylor weren’t brothers. They’re not even related.
Back before the internet, you had to buy expensive magazines to learn things like this, and growing up in Australia where we had INXS which not only featured a guy named Gary Garry Beers, but three Farris brothers, why would you question three guys in a hair band with the same surname being related?
You wouldn’t. You just wouldn’t.
Duran Duran did have a ridiculous feud with a rival hair band from the 1980s, Spandau Ballet (featuring two guys named Kemp who were brothers).
This feud was apparently patched up the night before they recorded Do they know it’s Christmas? (watch it to see George smiling and Paul Weller looking super-bored) when the guys partied together.
And you know what they were drinking?
If you said Ada Coleman’s Hanky-Panky cocktails, you may well be right.
Probably not, I have no idea, but wouldn’t it be nice?
*Here. You can find them all here.
**I never hated Duran Duran. Adolescence is hard. May the ’80s Music Gods forgive me.