The American Bar of the Savoy Hotel, London is an art deco masterpiece, and the origin of a number of world-famous cocktails. Dotted around its curving walls are pictures of stars of yesteryear who once frequented it - among them, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Fred Astaire, and Marlene Dietrich - and with a live pianist cranking out and singing the classics, it's a place worth visiting for a drink or two.
Last year, I went on my birthday, partly in search of a cocktail to match one I had enjoyed in New York earlier in the year. On our last night in New York, we had gone to the bar at Perry St., where an amazing mixologist called Mac listened to our moods and preferences, and went away to do strange and unusual things with alcohol and mixers.
When he returned a little later, he watched as a waiter dished out our various drinks, and before we were allowed to taste them, he have us their history (some were pre-prohibition, he explained). My cocktail was to be an Aviation, but he told me to wait before sampling it, as he poured a violet-coloured liquid down a glass mixing stick. I gather that the Aviation is made with gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, and lemon juice, but this simple list is, I suspect, only the half of the mixer's skill.
It was, without question, the single best cocktail I had ever had, and on a few occasions since, I have tried, and failed, to get somebody to replicate it. My New York Aviation, pictured above, had a floating "cloud-base", and a flavour of a delicate complexity that I have not experienced before or since. All mightily impressed, we asked Mac where he had learned his almost alchemical craft. "I trained," he said, "under a full-blooded Cherokee named Ed," and we nodded sagely at this semi-mystical statement.
Back at the Savoy, more recently, I ordered another Aviation, expecting a two layered drink of wonder, but instead I received a disappointingly ordinary-looking glass containing a drink of one colour and a maraschino cherry. I have learned, subsequently, that some mixers omit the crème de violette, and it may be that this is the missing magic, or maybe there was something in the teachings of Ed, passed down to Mac, that are simply not replicable by ordinary mortals.