(This piece is in the current issue of our Ardent Spirits Newsletter)
For the first time in my life I visited the London Bar Show this year, and although I could wax, probably not very poetic, mind, for hours about the great cocktails, the incredibly passionate bartenders, and the professionalism with which the event was staged, I've decided against that. Instead I'll ramble about just one night in London that pretty much has nothing to do with the Bar Show. It keeps cropping up that hi-def TV screen in my head, though. It was a night to remember.
I met Dick Bradsell for the first time in my life on Friday June 16, 2006. I've known who he is for years. It was about time we met. Dick, as many of you will know, was one of the founders of the cocktail phenomenon in London, and he's looked on as a guru by pretty much all and sundry. Now that I've met him I can add my vote. He's a guru alright. And he's a damned good lad, too.
Bill Greenham is my oldest friend. We've known each other since we were 5 years old, he once bust my nose in a fairground boxing match--no, I lie not--he probably knows more about me than I care to remember, and he still speaks to me. Howzat for friendship? We've both know Stan Ogden since we were all eight years old, and the three of us are thick as thieves, but Bill and I have known Stan for only about 46 years, whereas our friendship is fast approaching the half-century, so Stan's pretty much the newcomer if you catch my drift. Stan couldn't make London this year. Babysitter problems. Having babysitter problems at 54 years of age is something I find sort of admirable, so Bill and I let him off the hook when he and I visited Dick at the Colony, the joint where he now graces the mahogany.
No fancy cocktail bar, The Colony. It's a bohemian hangout. Even I'm too young to remember beatniks, but I'm pretty sure that the walls of Colony remember them well, and these days the place attracts people who would have been beatniks had they been born at the right time. Dick fixed us a couple of rum punches, and very nice they were, too. He was pretty busy though, so we just made a general nuisance of ourselves for a while. Listening to Sex Pistols et al on the stereo. Chatting to the regulars. Just hanging.
Dick's shift ended after a short while--we'd gotten there kinda late--so he took us to Groucho, the posh joint where Fergie and Diana used to make mischief back in the day. Very swank indeed is Groucho. If Dick hadn't been with us I doubt we'd have gotten through the door, but we were welcomed with open arms, and we made our way to an upstairs bar to shoot the shit for a couple of hours. Dick and I locked eyes, asked questions, listened to answers with bartender ears, and decided we were friends of the very best kind. Well, at least that's what I came away with, and I think I'm pretty much on the money when I say that Dick seemed to feel that way, too. Good lad is Dick. The real deal. Born with bartender bones.
Dick had an appointment with a cricket bat the following day, so he couldn't stay out all night lest he let the lads down. Letting the lads down in a cricket match just isn't cricket, you know. If we'd have kept him out late who knows what might have happened? He might not have been able to throw his usual googly, for instance. He might have batted a maiden over. Gotten out for a duck. There are approximately 8,374 things you can do badly in cricket. I don't understand a one of them.
Our new bartender friend, not being one to leave us wandering aimlessly, insisted on taking us to another bohemian joint before taking off, and we ended up in a basement bar known as Gerry's where we felt far more at home that we had in Groucho's. It wasn't dirty, but it was a bit scruffy. Suited us down to the ground. We were clean but scruffy, too. Dick introduced us to the owner who promptly bought us a round of drinks, and after saying hi to a few friends the esteemed Mister Bradsell headed out into the night leaving us in a very friendly atmosphere. Gerry's is the sort of place where, well, let me tell you, Gerry's is the sort of place where you can find yourself arm wrestling female Australian pub owners at two of the clock in the a. m.
I can't for the life of me remember her name, or the name of the pub she owns, but this Sheila, short on height, tall on fun, challenged me to a muscle match for one reason or another. I don't remember why. I'm betting that she doesn't, either. But the reason isn't what's really important. What's important is that I was in one of the greatest bars I've ever been to, in the middle of London town, arm wrestling a woman from Oz, and if I'd been wearing any, my socks would have been laughed right off of my feet that night. I didn't actually lose the arm-wrestling match, but I didn't actually win either. She accused me of holding back. She was wrong.
Bill and I laughed and drank and chatted and made merry. Then we drank some more, laughed some more, and made even merrier. For a grand finale, after the closing bell had tolled and we'd settled our tab--this at about three a.m.--the woman behind the stick challenged me to another arm-wrestling match. Skinny young blonde thing she was, too. I beat her hands down, so to speak. Took some doing, though. And my only defense is a skin-full of liquor.
The London Bar Show was unspeakably wonderful. I have stories about the cocktails and the bars and the bartenders and the multi-national bartender camaraderie that was in the air that week that I'll hopefully eat out on for years to come. I'll be there again next year, and if you can possibly make it, it's a good thing to do. The Bradsell night was something else, though. Just a night out with the lads down the pub. You never know what's gonna go down there, do you? That's the magic of the mahogany.
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