May 19: Joe Gilmore

joe-gilmoreTragically, but not surprisingly, most of the legends of bartending died some time ago. However, today we celebrate one of the great barmen who is still with us: Joe Gilmore, the Savoy Hotel’s famed head barman, is celebrating his 93rd birthday today!

At the age of 18, Gilmore was hired by the Savoy as a trainee bartender. Gilmore spent World War II behind the bar at the Savoy and other London bars inventing new cocktails to help lift people’s spirits during the dark days of the blitz. After the war’s end, Gilmore became a permanent fixture at the Savoy, eventually being promoted to head barman in 1955, and becoming a favorite of the hotel’s celebrity clientele. Sir Winston Churchill would only go to Gilmore for drinks and in return, Gilmore invented not one but three different cocktails in Churchill’s honor. When American presidents and Hollywood stars came to London they’d go to Gilmore. When the royal family celebrated a birthday, they’d commission Gilmore to create a special cocktail.

Gilmore’s fame was even known in the depths of space! In 1969, Gilmore created a cocktail called the Moonwalk in honor of the moon landing. According to Gilmore, “The Savoy sent it off in a flask and I received a letter back from Neil Armstrong thanking us and saying it was the first drink they had when they came out of quarantine.” Then, in 1975 he created the Link Up cocktail to celebrate the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project, the first joint U.S.–Soviet space flight. During the mission, the astronauts were informed by mission control that they’d all receive the drink upon their return from space, to which one astronaut was said to reply “Tell Joe we want it up here”.

Gilmore retired from his post at the Savoy in 1976, but he’s still known to pick up the shaker from time to time. In tribute to Gilmore let’s mix a drink he created and named after his most famous post. The Savoy Affair is a sweet Champagne cocktail mixed with several fruit flavors.

The Savoy Affair

  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1 ounce Fraise de Bois Liqueur
  • 1 ounce passion fruit juice
  • 1 ounce Peach Brandy
  • Champagne

Shake all ingredients, except champagne, together with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Top off with champagne and garnish with a strawberry.

Tomorrow: Blue jeans.

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