Words by: Ian Cameron, photography by Alys Tomlinson
Joe Gilmore, the former head barman of the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel, sadly passed away just before Christmas 2015 at the age of 93. We were lucky enough to meet him in January 2012 and the following is adapted from a profile written then.
Belfast-born Joe (centre), who was head bartender from 1954 to 1975, joined Victor Gower (1981-1985 - second left), Peter Dorelli (1985-2003 - far left), Salim Khoury (2003-2007 - second right) and Erik Lorincz (2010-present - far right).
Joe created his most enduring cocktail in 1969 to commemorate a moment in history. "The moon landings were a big deal to everyone at the time and I thought I've got to make a cocktail for this," Joe told us, who watched the moon landings repeated on TV when his shift was over - though says he never harboured ambitions to go into space himself. "I never got to serve Neil Armstrong personally, but I sent one in a flask to NASA and apparently it was the first drink he had when he landed. He wrote a letter to me at the Savoy to say thank you."
Joe was perhaps the last of the former students of the Savoy's most famous bartender, Harry Craddock, and together they once buried one of Craddock's shakers in the walls of the building. "We dug and we dug but we never found it," he recalls of a later alteration. "He was a very nice man. I was the young apprentice and I did what I was told. He taught me all about the bar and about classic cocktails, though you learn such a lot yourself and in particular from your customers."
Joe was under 18 when he joined the Savoy as a commis waiter - "I wasn't allowed behind the bar so I was only allowed to serve drinks" - but says throughout his time there the customers were the main attraction, a mixture of regular drinkers and the rich and famous - citing Churchill, Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra and Princess Diana as his most memorable. "The American Bar was the best in the world and some of the customers became your friends. Winston Churchill was one of my first customers and he spent quite a while talking to me. He made me quite feel at home around him and I made a special cocktail for him." Joe wrote the recipe down for Erik Lorincz.
Joe's recipe and shaking his Moonwalk cocktail aged 90
"I also made a special cocktail for Princess Diana - she was lovely. She didn't drink a drop of alcohol so I mixed lemon, lime and orange juices and shook it up for her. Other customers would come in and ask for it too - but they would often ask me to top it up with champagne."
Joe, who exudes vitality, friendliness and charm, has a nice line in self-improving life maxims, which are good advice for even today's bartenders:
* "It's not the customer that comes in that counts: it's the one that comes back and brings a friend."
* "Smile and the world smiles with you. Weep and you weep alone."
Erik Lorincz, current head bartender, said it was an honour to have been able to get to know Joe - who was awarded a lifetime achievement award - and his successors since he joined the Savoy. "It's like a dream for a bartender to meet this group, and the fact Joe met Harry Craddock is just amazing - he's witnessed such a long period in history."
Joe was still shaking his Moonwalk cocktail at the age of 90. He said the Moonwalk is still a popular bar-call at the American Bar, with the team making up to 20 per day. We suggest you shake one up for yourself with which to salute Joe, a bartending legend.
Garnish: Orange zest
Method: Build in glass like a Classic Champagne Cocktail.
30ml Grand Marnier
2 dashes Orange Flower Water
3 dashes Grapefruit Bitters
1 sugar lump
Top with Louis Roederer champagne