Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
In his book of practical advice on how to run a bar, Eddie Clarke warns readers against hiring a West End bartender to work outside the West End. They will always, he said, want to return to the West End. And so it proved the case with Eddie himself.
Best remembered nowadays as Harry Craddock's successor at the Savoy's American Bar, Edwin John Clarke was London's King Cocktail during the 1950s, and described by no less an authority than the New Yorker as “the great Eddie Clarke”.
A president of the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild, Eddie published at least four books: Shaking with Eddie (1948), Shake Again with Eddie (1954), Practical Bar Management (1954) and Shaking in the 60's (1963). Most of these are extremely hard to find today.
Eddie led an interesting life. By his own account, he was already at sea by the age of 15, and a ship's bartender by age 18. He worked on cruise ships, including the Empress of Scotland, Empress of Australia and Empress of Britain, in the days when travel was rare and cruises genuinely luxurious.
Along the way, Eddie collected exotic recipes with a painstaking attention to detail: a Spinster's Dream from Penang, Malaysia, made with the then wildly exotic passion fruit juice, and a Shanghai Fizz from China. (His Singapore Sling recipe includes gin, lemon, sugar, bitters, soda, curaçao and cherry brandy but nary a hint of pineapple - see below)
Eddie built up sufficient kudos in his cruise career that he moved to the Berkeley in 1934, by his own account as head bartender. Then, perhaps poached, he abandoned the West End for Dublin to open what he described as that city's first cocktail bar, in the historic Royal Hibernian Hotel. While there, he created his Guinness Cooler – Dubonnet, Cointreau and cacao topped with Guinness – a drink that gained some traction internationally.
Yet the lure of the West End was too strong. Eddie lasted just eight months in Dublin, before heading back to the bright lights of London, where he worked as head bartender at the London Casino until New Year's Eve 1938. He joined the Savoy as head bartender in January 1939, before leaving to serve in the Royal Artillery as a gunner. It was 1946 when he finally left the army, and decided not to reapply for his old job.
Perhaps not having learned from his Dublin experience, Eddie was barely out of uniform before he was off to Exeter and running the cocktail bar at that city's Royal Clarence Hotel. By the end of September, after what can't have been long in his post, he was back in his spiritual home, the West End, where he took up residence at the posh and high-faluting Albany Club. (His customers included the Duke of Edinburgh amongst others.)
It was at the Albany Club that Eddie created probably his best known drink, the Comet Cocktail, in honour of the first ever jet aircraft to run a commercial route – and the dawn of the age of mass air travel. A blend of grapefruit, cognac, Van der Hum – a tribute to the Comet's destination in South Africa – and bitters, it's a tasty take on the Sidecar.
At Christmas 1953, Eddie departed the Albany Club, and opened his own place, the Albemarle Club, AKA Eddie's Albemarle Club, in early 1954 – a departure sufficiently rushed that Shake Again with Eddie not only mispells the author's surname but shows evidence of last-minute editing. By the 60s, the Albany was sufficient a landmark of old-school London style to feature regularly in guidebooks, and Eddie had transitioned from famous bartender to nightclub proprietor.
At some point during the early 70s, when the Swinging Sixties must have made his London a very, very different place, Eddie left the West End again. His destination? Retirement in sunny Tenerife, in Spain's Canary Islands, just off the coast of Africa. We don't know, as yet, whether he ever returned.
Image top of page - Eddie Clarke mixing for the famous cricketing Bedser twins circa 1950
Bartender and author