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Savoy Head Barman Erik Lorincz and Bar Manager Declan McGurke

Self-discovery through cocktails

19 May 2018 Suzanne Frost

The world-renowned Savoy Hotel is the stuff of legend, and legends have adorned the walls of the American Bar ever since the late 1980s. The iconic black and white portraits by British photographer Terry O'Neill - featuring the likes of Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, David Bowie, Judy Garland and Peter Sellers - are as much a part of the American Bar as its shakers and glassware, and the dedicated team of bartenders has used the iconic images as inspiration for an innovative and ambitious new cocktail menu. Each drink in the menu named ‘Every Moment Tells A Story’ has been inspired by a particular portrait hanging on the wall of the bar, and in turn a snapshot of history revealing a hidden story.

Guests can go on a flavour journey with the help of a tasting graph, with length of drink and light vs dark as its indices. When London Calling heard about photography being turned into a flavour experience, we were intrigued and asked bar manager Declan McGurk to tell us more…
 
London Calling: Tell us a little bit about the concept behind the new menu!
Declan McGurk: For some time there has been an ambition to do some activity surrounding the Terry O'Neill photography that dominates our décor. During 2017, that long-term idea finally became a reality as we agreed on the concept and then put to work those plans ready for our recent launch. The concept is about bringing our walls to life by using the highly creative photography as the inspiration for truly engaging cocktails. Photography captures moments and so can visiting a bar, so, given this similarity, as an art form photography and cocktails can potentially evoke some great parallel feelings.

Raquel Welch posing in the art deco bedroom of her Beverly Hills home, 1976. Photography supplied by Iconic Images © Iconic Images / Terry O’Neill 2018

LC: Can you explain the process of turning a visual (photo) into a sensory (taste) experience – what are you trying to capture from the image and how do you interpret that with flavours?
DM: As a team, we looked at each photograph and deciphered what we felt was being told. There is a wonderful photograph of David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor from their first meeting. This of course then had to be the first drink on the menu and took the title 'First Impressions'. The photo presented these stars in an almost angelic fashion so the drink was going to be a light cocktail in body, similar in style to a gimlet. It is a gin based drink, white pepper elderflower liqueur, yuzu wine and champagne cordial. Both yuzu wine and the elderflower are big personality ingredients, but through the marriage of the drink those personalities are almost tamed and harmony is formed. This represents that photo perfectly.

Behind Closed Doors: Redistilled Grey Goose vodka with El Diablo spice mix, clarified tomato water

LC: How many tries before a new drink is created? When do you know that it is ‘right’?
DM: Sometimes a recipe falls in place very quickly and with others, there is a long back and forth process. The most important thing to keep in mind is who will order and enjoy this drink as we make drinks for our guests not ourselves.

LC: Can you talk us through the tasting graph?
DM: The rough copy of this is still stuck up on our back corridor. It was originally created as a graph of drink styles we felt needed to be on the list so that all drinking experiences could be captured. For example, a position on the graph represents whisky highballs as we knew that we needed at least one on the list. On completion of the menu though it was quite apparent this discipline guide for ourselves had formed a flavour journey of the menu and we felt this would be a very useful tool to assist the guests. Our team of servers are employed to talk guests through the menu but with cocktails we noticed that often a guest also enjoys a bit of self-discovery too, so this guide I hope will point them in the right direction.



LC: Are there any trends or new innovations in mixology that we should know about?
DM: We have for a few years been developing our highball offering and it appears to be an industry wide trend.

LC: Do you have a personal favourite?
DM: That changes almost daily but right now probably 'Return of the Polka Panther'. It takes inspiration from an amazing photo of Peter Sellers in his own bathrobe wearing a polka dot bathrobe. The drink itself is a scotch malt stinger with eucaplytus and Italicus.


Actor Peter Sellers wearing a short polka dot bathrobe in the bathroom in his flat in Victoria, London, 1975. Photography supplied by Iconic Images © Iconic Images / Terry O’Neill 2018

LC: What does working at the Savoy mean to you?
DM: Working at the Savoy has a romantic feeling attached to it. This building has the ability to really get under your skin. In my role, I feel there is great responsibility to ensure the American Bar is continually operating at a standard that matches the great history and reputation of this iconic place.
 
The American Bar is at The Savoy Hotel, 100 Strand, London WC2R 0EZ
 

 

 


 
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