Another head female bartender was not hired at The Savoy until 2017
It’s believed Ada mentored Harry Craddock
Ada did not speak to her co-worker for 20 years
Ada is mostly known for her creation of the Hanky Panky cocktail
Only those who have never done it would think that bartending is an easy job. You need the right ice, the right amount of shakes, the right garnish! It goes on and on and on.
Quite frankly, you need to know your shit.
And you need to give your service with a smile. No one did that better back in her day than London's most famous female bartender, Ada' Coley' Coleman. Ada was a shining star in the hospitality Industry before women were welcome to participate.
But she took her shot and knocked it out of the park into being one of the most notable mixologists in history.
Ada Coleman was born in 1875 in London and lived a quiet and humble life with her father. Following her father's untimely death that left her strapped for cash, Ada was offered a job at a flower shop owned by a successful businessman named Rubert D'Oyly Carte. Carte also happened to be her father's former employer.
She then moved on to a bar at the Claridge Hotel in London, where she became a quick study after learning her first cocktail, the Manhattan. She noticed a bit of an uptick in her income, but she had some concerns - chiefly, her age.
Ada was 24, considered at the time to be an old age for female bartenders (or 'barmaids). It also didn't help that only about a quarter of the bartenders working during this period were women.
Bartending was considered an occupation reserved for 'daughters of tradesmen' or men.
Although some women enjoyed the job since it was less physically grueling and paid more than other trades, it was still considered a bit 'untoward' for women to hold such positions.
But as time would tell, her age, gender, and prejudices of the time couldn’t hold back her talent. And Ada's skill would prove to put any concerns about her capabilities to rest.
The Savoy Hotel
Ada found her way to another one of Carte’s establishments: The American Bar at the 5 star Savoy Hotel in London.
This was a massive accomplishment as The Savoy was the first hotel in England to have electricity and consistent running water. Today’s basic amenities were the height of luxury back then.
It was an exciting time to be a part of the ever-growing hospitality industry, especially at such a prestigious hotel. Only the best of the best bartenders were permitted to work there.
Ada was an immediate hit with patrons far and wide. (So much so they gave her the nickname 'Coley.') She brought a sort of je ne sais quoi to her drink making and always offered impeccable service and engaging conversation.
She was almost immediately promoted to Head Bartender in 1903, and Head Bartender she stayed for a whopping 23 years!
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!
During her tenure, Ada created a cocktail called the Hanky Panky. (Back then, it meant something more akin to black magic as opposed to the modern definition.)
Per the request of one of her regulars, one Sir Charles Hawtrey, she created the unique libation with a bit of punch after hours of experimenting.
Upon tasting it, Hawtrey allegedly exclaimed:
By jove! That is the real hanky panky!
It was a slam dunk not just for Sir Charles but for all of her patrons! (And it is still served at The Savoy to this very day.)
Many of Ada's regulars included the likes of The Prince of Wales, the Earl of Lonsdale, Mark Twain, and Diamond Jim Brady.
(Like…no big deal at all, right?)
Her regulars also showered her with gifts like you wouldn't believe; from being left 100 pounds in a will, all the way to being introduced to a Princess!
The fun didn't stop at the bar, however. Ada was renowned for throwing parties of great renown at her home with most of her regular patrons. She loved to host, and she loved the theatre, so a night with Ada was destined to be one you wouldn't soon forget. By the 19th century, Ada was a bonafide celebrity in her rite.
However, it is vital to note that Ada was not the only nor the first female bartender at The Savoy…
Ruth ‘Miss B' Burgess was employed at the Savoy in 1902, just one year before Ada started. It is said that Burgess and Coleman did not speak a single word to one another or work a single shift together during the 20 years that they worked at The Savoy.
The root of the beef stems from Ada's regulars asking Ruth for Ada's unique cocktails when she wasn't working. Ruth asked Ada if she could share her recipes so she could serve her customers in her absence, and Ada refused. It also was said that Ada was quite a beauty, that a lot of the male patrons seemed to favor Ada over Ruth.
So famous is their rivalry that a play was created and produced in Washington, D.C., in 2017 called Ruth and Ada at the Savoy. It would seem that neither of the women was open to burying the hatchet until the very end, even with them retiring at the same time. Now, whether that retirement was volunteered or otherwise is a whole other conspiracy indeed.
In Walks The New Guy
In 1920, we had a new hotshot bartender step on the scene at the Savoy by the name of Harry Craddock. Originally from England, Harry migrated to the States when he was 21.
He stayed there for just over 20 years and even became an American citizen. But after being rumored to serve the very last drink before the 18th Amendment was enacted, Harry made his way back to England to try and hone his bartending skills.
He bided his time on the back bar for five years as Ada and Ruth worked up front. It is even said that Ada mentored Harry for a brief time, but we can’t be sure.
There are also whispers that Harry convinced management that the bar could use a revamping to add some new blood to the place with, guess who, Harry in charge.
He didn't think it was appropriate that women were serving behind the bar and that American drinkers didn’t feel comfortable being served by women in this setting.
He also said that it would make more sense to put someone with an American accent behind the American Bar, especially since this was right when Prohibition was taking off, which was attracting a lot more business.
Really, dude? You lived in England for 21 years, whatever American accent you think you have is weak at best. Also, he definitely laid it on too thick.
It's more likely that Harry realized Ada would be some intense competition and did everything he could to make sure his light would shine.
And so, by 1924, he got his wish as the Savoy was shut down for renovations, and Ada and Ruth went into retirement. Nobody alive knows whether it was their choice or not.
But when the Savoy reopened in 1926, Harry proved to bring his own flair that made him stand apart in his own rite and become one of the most famous bartenders in the world.
He was in such high demand that local newspapers would post the dates he would return from an extended time away from The American Bar.
Kudos to Harry, though, as he went on to create and publish The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930, with over 700 recipes that are still well regarded to this day. It lists some of the cocktails he's known for, such as The Corpse Reviver #2 and The White Lady.
And his thank you to Ada? He lists and credits the creation of the Hanky Panky to her in this cocktail book.
I mean, it’s not nothing.
In 2017, The American Bar was named the best bar globally by CNN Travel. Yes, you read that right. Best. In. The. World. That is undoubtedly due to Ada setting a precedent for superb service and attitude.
When Ada ‘retired,' multiple London newspapers published the news to alert the public and thank her for her two-decade service. At this time, she was fondly dubbed 'The Queen of Cocktail Mixers' and would surely be missed by all in the industry.
Ada was interviewed at a local newspaper where estimated that she served somewhere in the neighborhood of one million drinks to 100,000 customers.
Liquor.com very justly named her one of the best bartenders of all time, and her Hanky Panky was listed as one of the best selling-cocktails in 2015. In 2018 a N.Y. bar was named Ada's Place in her honor.
That sounds like a strong pouring arm, if I do say so myself!
Ada died at the ripe old age of 91. She lived a quiet life after her time at the Savoy, but her legacy most certainly reigns supreme. So much so that the next female Head Bartender wasn't hired until 2017. (Over 90 years later!)
The American Bar is the oldest surviving cocktail bar in London, and in 2017, it was named the best bar in the world by CNN Travel. Yes, you read that right. Best. In. The. World.
It’s a title that is undoubtedly thanks in no small part to Ada’s precedent for superb service and attitude.
It's heart-warming to know that Ada was an icon in her time that received her flowers while she could still smell them. Although the nature of her departure from The Savoy may be controversial, it is important to note how significant of an impact she left to make it so that we can still sing her praises almost 100 years later.
Cheers, Coley. Thank you for your service.
Hanky Panky Recipe
You didn't think I was going to let you go without telling you about the Hanky Panky, right! Of course not! It's in the neighborhood of a Martini but takes an interesting twist with an addition of Fernet-Branca, which is an herbal Italian bitter.
It is a mix of bitter and sweet that is bound to make you say, "By Jove!” just like Charles Hawtrey
1 1/2 ounces gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fernet-Branca
Garnish: orange twist
1. Add the gin, sweet vermouth, and Fernet-Branca into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
2. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
3. Garnish with an orange twist
Sip with the classiest company, or at least the most entertaining!