We like to pay tribute to the ‘fore-fathers’ of the cocktail movement – those who set the scene to be what it is today, establishing its panache and perhaps shunning the conventions of the day for the sake of libation dedication.
In the pre-prohibition era of 1899, one such legend was controversially just beginning her career behind the bar…
When Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman started mixing drinks at London’s art deco masterpiece Claridge’s, she became one of less than 150 women bartending at this time (compared with over 55,000 men). Despite the patriarchal attitudes of the era, Ada had undeniable flare for cocktail mixing and inventing, and entertaining patrons with her quick wit.
This talent would see her iconified into cocktail books the world over with her creation, the Hanky Panky – a reference to the British term for ‘black magic’ (not what you were thinking, right?).
Coley’s talents soon took her to The Savoy’s American Bar where she quickly became head bartender and renowned cocktail maker to the stars. Her evenings of work involved serving the likes of Huck Finn author Mark Twain, the Prince of Wales and Prince Wilhelm of Sweden.
Actor Sir Charles Hawtrey is said to have inspired the creation of the Hanky Panky. Striding into the bar one evening, particularly exhausted from work, he requested from Ada “something with a bit of punch in it”. Coley mixed up equal parts gin and sweet vermouth, two dashes of Fernet Branca and a twist of orange. Apparently, it was nothing short of magical.
Coley headed the American Bar for 23 years, until Harry Craddock (author of The Savoy Cocktail Book) took over in 1926. She remains today the only woman to ever head the bar at The Savoy, and the inventor of the timeless Hanky Panky – a cocktail we often turn to when we’re looking for that “extra punch”.