Words by: Ian Cameron
Chris Moore is head bartender at The Savoy hotel's Beaufort Bar. Here he talks about his sense of a place in history, how the drinks programme has evolved, what makes a good hotel bartender and why working in a five-star hotel bar isn't all glamour, glamour, glamour.
Working here definitely feels like you're part of the jigsaw of history. When you walk out from back-of-house, you remember the stories, imagine Sinatra playing the piano after-hours, and you're reminded about everything that's gone on here. When they closed the hotel, there were a lot of regulars who opposed the restoration and said it would never look as good again, but it had to be brought up to date. Someone once said the Savoy should 'always be up-to-date and, if possible, a little ahead', and I think that's certainly true.
I was probably a little bit naive when I joined. I think I thought everything would be done for you and you just have to step out and serve guests. I don't know why I thought that: standards are that much higher, and that just means you work that much harder. Talking to the guys at the Langham and the Connaught I know it's the same for them.
I've never worked in a bar where people come in just for a look. They are curious to see The Savoy and it's hard not to be impressed by the decadence of the place. The Beaufort Bar is by far the most expensive room in the hotel - we're talking millions and millions. There's 24-carat gold leaf on the walls, Ralph Lauren side tables and even the curtains around the bar cost tens of thousands. The bar is on what used to be a stage - it's where George Gershwin premiered Rhapsody in Blue - before that the room used to be the winter garden and have a glass roof that opened up.
When the hotel reopened, the Beaufort Bar was an upstart compared to the American Bar. The two were supposed to complement each other: they're about classic cocktails and we were supposed to be about champagne. But you can't fight against history and people expected cocktails here too - it was supposed to be 90 per cent champagne but actually it's turned out to be up to 80 per cent cocktails. Our drinks style is more contemporary than the American Bar - almost all our customers want gin or vodka with citrus rather than an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan - and because we don't list classics people know they can't get these drinks just anywhere.
Because it was designed for champagne the bar wasn't built for cocktails at all. The American Bar has plenty of room to work behind but our bar is one third the size, so two bartenders and a bar-back is really too many. Our ice-wells are only 8in high so after four drinks need to be replenished frequently - and when we're nearly totally out, the ice machines are a 20-minute return journey to the other side of the hotel. There was nowhere to build drinks, so we fitted a narrow chopping board by the speed-rail and bolted on a drip tray by the bar-top. We don't have a dispense station for table service so every drink has to pass through a narrow window, which is really impractical. And because there were never any security shutters fitted, all 150 bottles and every glass and piece of equipment has to be stripped and locked up every night.
We are surprisingly seasonal and make more homemade ingredients than many people expect . It's probably more difficult than most bars because there are so many layers to a hotel, in ordering and maintaining stocks, ensuring quality, getting approvals from F&B and the financial controllers. Even though the bar wasn't built for cocktails, luckily there's a kitchen for private dining events just next door, where there's a water bath and vacuum packing machine, and we can cook sous vide. We make our own fig leaf syrup, lemon leaf and sage syrup, rhubarb honey water, nettle cordial and pine vodka among others. The chefs come over and take an interest too, but it's better we make all this stuff ourselves, to control what we end up with. We went through a molecular phase and people still ask for some of those drinks now. But operationally they were extremely difficult to do, looked like we were trying too hard, and wasn't as classy as it could have been. We learned from it and moved on. The homemade things we use now deliver results but fit operationally too.
Something that's very particular here is the way we serve drinks and address guests. It's critical, from the way you greet them to very subtle mannerisms like the way your fingers are pointing when you handle glass. It's every detail. You should be able to tell within five seconds whether someone wants to engage, talk to them, what type of drink they want to have. If people really want to look at the menu they pick it up straight away. Most of our guests don't care about bitters that date from the 1800s. It's about eye contact, reading their needs and requirements to ensure it's perfect.
A good hotel bartender is someone who is well-presented and -mannered who puts the customer first. At the end of the day you wouldn't have your job if it wasn't for the guest. Grooming is a big standard here. Senior management will pick out things and point them out to you. When we opened we were given a manual of what's expected of us. We're not allowed asymmetrical hair, or to have any patterns in our hair, for example. And there's an etiquette guide - including how to address everyone from the Pope to the Queen, presidents and every level of lord and lady, and things you should and should not say to any guest.
The dress code is relaxed now, though there are still no tracksuits allowed. We didn't used to allow trainers but had great people coming in wearing trainers who you'd expect to spend a lot, and we had to turn them away. I don't lament it, it's the way of the world, but it's more difficult for those who remember the old days when you had to dress up, and I know it's more difficult for them in a suit and tie and they're sitting next to someone in a t-shirt.
It's my ambition to make the Beaufort Bar renowned as one of the best bars anywhere. Thinking long-term I'd like to stay behind the bar. That kind of longevity is lost a lot of the time - if I had left after a year it wouldn't be what it is like now, it's taken that long to evolve. Any bar whose bartenders move on after six months simply can't maintain those standards. All the top guys, Alex Kratena at the Langham, Ago Perrone at the Connaught, Erik Lorincz here at the American Bar and the Connaught before, they've all been there for years. You have to put the time in to get the results.