For some bars, a shift in menu offerings can be as simple as a few quick changes to a template, or as involved and complex as a major creative production. At London’s American Bar at the Savoy, the process definitely falls into that latter category: not just a change in the types of drinks printed on the menu, but in the stories those drinks are meant to tell.
This week, the American Bar unveiled its newest revamped menu, drawing inspiration from the history and stories throughout the London boroughs surrounding the bar. The idea first began forming back in June of 2015, with plans to style the menu as a map of London. But, as bar manager Declan McGurk and head bartender Erik Lorincz uncovered more and more fascinating historical tidbits in their environs, the concept morphed into something bigger.
“Once, I was on the way to work and passed by Great Newport Street, where I noticed a hook on the wall with a sign for Metropolitan Police,” Lorincz says. The otherwise inconspicuous hook piqued his curiosity, and a little research revealed that the hook had actually been hanging since the 1930s, when policemen would use it to hang their coats while directing traffic. “I realized that I had been passing by this for so many years, and thought that there must be more places in London which we pass by daily but we don’t know exist,” he says. “Variety was important,” McGurk adds. “We wanted some very famous sites and also more obscure interesting stories.” With that, the research rabbit hole opened up.
But a cocktail menu slash major history research project almost seems too easy for this crew. So, they decided to take it up a notch—with a silver screen debut. The idea of a documentary was floated, but the team eventually decided they wanted to up the creative ante even further. So, McGurk and Lorincz, along with former head bartenders Victor Gower, Salim Khoury and Peter Dorelli, partnered with director Sven Arnstein to create a black and white silent film, which hearkens back to the days of Sinatra (back in the day, he was a fixture at the Savoy’s bar and piano).
The film is sheer entertainment in and of itself, and the bar team certainly enjoyed taking a crack at acting, but the project wasn’t just for kicks (or publicity). Each of the drinks on the newly unveiled menu references a specific time and place in London history, and perhaps the most interesting representation of this is the Pickering Place, a reference to a tiny, tucked-away courtyard and the site of the last-known duel in London. The serve is actually comprised of two cocktails (a cheeky nod to that “duel” part), plus a wooden box which, when opened, reveals an iPad on which guests can view the black and white silent film. “This is a very special aspect, personally,” McGurk explains, “because in this case we can use it as a tool to enhance the guest’s experience. This is fitting with the American Bar culture, where everything is always focused on the guest.”
“The American Bar at the Savoy is known for its art deco style,” adds Lorincz, “and we thought this serve with a black and white silent movie captures that style. It brings to a guest an unexpected experience, as the box is opened right in front of the guest just before the movie starts.”
Of course, not every cocktail can be supplemented with a full-scale film production, but that doesn’t mean the others are any less creative. Each is crafted with meticulous attention paid not just to what’s in the glass, but also how the drink is garnished, presented, and served. “Visual aspects are quite important, as we are a 5-star hotel, so there is a certain attention to refinement and appeal also required,” explains McGurk, adding that the intricate garnishes are partially thanks to skills that the bar team picked up from the hotel’s pastry chefs (which explains why the Punk Rock, a shout-out to a pub that had a boisterous punk scene in the ‘70s, is topped with a mohawk). With 24 drinks, the menu tips its hat to places like the studio where Alfred Hitchcock filmed some of his classics, Abbey Road Studios, and the original 13th-century estate that eventually became the site of the Savoy—all presented in map form, with beautiful illustrations by Joe Wilson. “With these stories, what we want is to set up a day for a guest who is visiting London for a day or two by having a cocktail at the bar,” Lorincz says, “and then recommend that they visit the actual place where we took the inspiration from.”
And now, just a few days on the heels of the menu’s premiere, what’s the team feeling? “Pride,” says McGurk. “I am very excited how it will develop and am very confident we have created something that will inspire.” Lorincz adds that the filming experience was unforgettable, especially being able to include the living legends of the American Bar. “With this movie, we captured the past, present and tomorrow,” he says.
Watch the film below: