Shannon Tebay also first American to take charge of renowned London cocktail bar when it reopens
Last modified on Fri 6 Aug 2021 21.38 BST
The first time the Savoy hotel’s American Bar had a woman at the helm was in 1903, when Ada “Coley” Coleman – whose creations included the classic cocktail the Hanky Panky – took the role. But since her more than two decades reign, the internationally renowned London institution has never appointed a female head bartender since.
Now, nearly a century later, Britain’s oldest surviving cocktail bar is finally to have a woman in charge once again when it reopens in the autumn for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Shannon Tebay, who starts the role on Monday, will not only become the first woman in 95 years to hold the revered position but also the first American.
Tebay, who was previously the head bartender at Death & Co, an influential cocktail bar in Manhattan’s East Village, said she was delighted about becoming the American Bar’s 13th head bartender.
“It means the world, I’m thrilled to take on the role,” said Tebay, 35, who before going into bartending trained in classic French pastry. “It’s certainly an incredible professional opportunity. I feel the weight and pressure of the historical significance of the role but also feel very supported by the community at large both in the United States and in the UK.”
She said it was “long overdue” that a woman was filling the role but hoped her appointment was “going to help spearhead this idea of progress and inclusivity”.
“I take great pride in the fact that I’m going to be the second female since Ada Coleman and the first American in this role. I think it shows that the industry at large is ready to move forward … we’re ready for progress,” said Tebay.
It was previously thought that Harry Craddock, who became head bartender in 1926, was American, but it is now believed he was born in England despite living and working in the US.
As well as Coleman and Craddock, Tebay, who grew up in New Mexico and has lived in New York for the past 12 years, will join the ranks of Frank Wells, the bar’s first known head bartender, Joe Gilmore, who invented the Moonwalk cocktail to commemorate Neil Armstrong’s moon landing, and, more recently, Erik Lorincz, who created the Pioneer.
Tebay said her favourite classic was the Hanky Panky, but her favourite drink was a gin martini with a twist.
She is in the process of rewriting the bar’s cocktail menu, which she said would draw on her pastry background in terms of flavour, colour and texture, but that she planned to honour the bar’s history, “while simultaneously incorporating contemporary techniques and innovation”.
She said she worked behind the bar in the same way that she would in a kitchen – paying close attention to organisation and mise en place.
Through the role she hopes to “give a voice” to other women in the industry and other underrepresented voices and demographics by diversifying their staff force. She also wants to make operations more sustainable.
Under her leadership, she also wants visitors to the American Bar to have fun. “It’s possible to honour the traditions and reverence of the past while not being afraid to have a good time and modernise the culture. I want our menus to be innovative and creative, but ultimately accessible and enjoyable for our guests.”
She hopes to act as a transatlantic “bridge” between the New York and London mixology worlds. But she said she had “a lot to learn” about London and European bar culture.
Claudia Carrozzi, the first female president of the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild, said Tebay’s appointment marked “a great step forward” for the industry “If we’re looking at the past, at the history of bartending, the trade was predominantly male … It’s a very good step forward. In these jobs women have not had the same opportunities as men.,” Carrozzi said.
Franck Arnold, the managing director of the Savoy, said he was excited to welcome Tebay, adding: “We admire her vision and her focus on teamwork. We’re looking forward to seeing her reopen the American Bar with a menu that will display her reverence for the bar’s history, and showcase the creativity and talent of the team as a whole.”
Lorincz, who left the American Bar in 2018 after eight years, said Tebay was the ideal person to to bring back the bar where the bar deserved to be after the pandemic. “Having an American female bartender is the perfect addition,” he said.
The American Bar is believed to date back to either 1889, when the Savoy opened, or 1890. It takes its name from the fact that it served “American-style” drinks. In 1930, then head bartender Harry Craddock wrote The Savoy Cocktail Book. Famous clientele have included Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill. It was originally part of a small suite of rooms that acted like a miniature gentlemen’s club. It later moved to its current location on the Strand side of the hotel in 1904. In 2017 it was named world’s best bar.