The man who put London’s American Bar at the Savoy on the international bartending map during the 1920s and 1930s pushed the envelope to bulging when it came to crafting drinks with blended scotch whisky. He was also almost single-handedly responsible for elevating and championing the craft of British cocktail making at a time when the average Londoner knew little about these “American” concoctions called cocktails.
Harry Lawson Craddock was the youngest of five children, born on 29 August 1876, in the Cotswolds village of Stroud, Gloucestershire. His family worked in the garment industry. But Harry sought to carve out a different life when he grew up. Sailing from Liverpool on board the vessel Teutonic, Harry landed in 1897 in New York City.
Within three years of his arrival, Craddock was employed as a bartender at the Hollenden Hotel, Cleveland’s grandest luxury hotel. Some say he made his way to Chicago’s Palmer House for a time before returning to Manhattan, in 1906, where he stood behind the mahogany at the Hotel Knickerbocker alongside Eddie Woelke and Adam Heiselman under the guidance of James B Regan. There he finessed his style at making a variation on the Bobby Burns Cocktail, called the Thistle Cocktail.
45 ml blended scotch whisky
45 ml Italian sweet vermouth
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake over ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel over the top.
Like Woelke, who made his way to Havana’s Hotel Sevilla-Biltmore, Craddock left the celebrity hangout after the hotel’s owner John Jacob Astor IV died, in 1912, in the tragic sinking of the Titanic. He went to Nassau, to work at the Hotel Colonial bar in Nassau before he landed a managerial position, by 1916, at the famed Hoffman House. It was then that he became a naturalized American citizen.
The First World War broke out during those years. Harry did his part—after taking a bartending job at another Manhattan landmark, the Holland House—by registering for the draft in September 1918. There was little chance that the 42-year-old barman would be called to serve. But the next major event in his life sent him back home.
Prohibition was enacted in the US. That meant Harry was out of work. After 23 years in America, Harry applied for a passport and moved his wife Annie and step-daughter Lulu to London, where with his remarkable credentials at making American cocktails, he secured a position at the dispensary bar at the Savoy Hotel.
It was then that Harry’s star shined brightly. The newspapers chatted up Harry’s attitude about cocktails noting in London’s Catering Industry Employer that the “great American exile among English potations may not yet have broken through the phlegm of the Englishman. But the check is only temporary.” He had already placed 200 “American” drinks on the dispensary bar’s menu.
A few cocktails appeared at Savoy, not the least of which was The Barbary Coast, a creamy concoction that also went by the moniker Whizz-Doodle amongst the fashionable Bright Young People, who haunted the nightlife circuit around Piccadilly Circus.
THE BARBARY COAST
20 ml Chivas Regal
20 ml Beefeater London Dry Gin
20 ml crème de cacao
20 ml heavy cream
Shake over cracked ice. Pour into a highball glass.
Although Ada Coleman and Ruth Burgess still held court in the Savoy’s American Bar, Harry managed to introduce the Blood & Sand Cocktail, a homage to Rudolph Valentino’s blockbuster silent film.
BLOOD & SAND COCKTAIL
20 ml Chivas Regal
20 ml Italian sweet vermouth
20 ml cherry brandy
20 ml freshly-squeezed orange juice
Shake over cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Then a strange set of circumstances changed the face of the American Bar. The influx of American A-lister tourists and Harry’s dedication to the trade put Ada out of business and put Harry in the driver’s seat. Why? Management realized that the hotel needed an AMERICAN bartender. Just like Brit-born Bob Hope and Cary Grant, Harry capitalized on his acquired American accent to win customer loyalty at the Savoy. Ada was sent to the hotel’s flower shop in 1926 and Harry was repositioned to head the American Bar.
The cocktail trend was in full force as was the Savoy’s popularity when the hotel’s management decided to publish a book of its recipes. Harry compiled the contents of the bar’s recipe index, adding more than a few future classics of his own such as the White Lady, White Cargo, and the Flying Scotchman, which celebrated the inauguration, in 1928, of non-stop Flying Scotsman train service from London to Edinburgh.
30 ml Chivas Regal
25 ml Italian vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1-2 dashes sugar syrup
Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
As the numbers of London bartenders grew by leaps and bounds, it seemed only right that its was time to establish a professional organization that served to standard recipes and hone technical skills. Harry, along with William J Tarling, founded the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild in 1933 to raise the bar in British bartending.
Not to be outdone for cocktail business, The Dorchester in Mayfair rebuilt its bar in 1938. When it reopened, the fanfare not only celebrated its new look, but its new head bartender, Harry Craddock. He stayed through the bombings, the rationing, the shortages that were brought on by the Second World War, serving General Dwight D Eisenhower, who set up headquarters in the hotel during the planning of the Normandy invasion.
When peace rang out and London pulled up its sleeves to rebuild the city, in 1947, the 71-year-old Craddock decided it was time to hang up his white jacket and shaker for good. He had seen the zenith of cocktail’s golden age in America and contributed to yet another in Europe. His legacy still lives at the Savoy and The Dorchester as well as in the hearts of barmen around the world.
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