May 10, 2021 Marketing Peter Rowland

Who is Ada Coleman ?

Meet the inspiration behind this new hotel lobby bar

It’s time to go back in time, 1920s, a world of jazz, stylish vehicles and flapper girls. Let’s meet Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman, the Head Bartender and cocktail master for the stars, an iconic face at the Savoy ‘s American Bar. She is behind the famous Hanky Panky cocktail created for Sir Charles Hawtrey when he asked for ‘’something with a bit of a punch in it’’ one evening, tired after a long day at work.

This timeless cocktail made of gin, vermouth and a dash of Fernet Branca is still served at the Savoy today, a tribute to the woman that held this position for 23 years, this representative figure, life of the party.

A little snap shot of Ada . . .

Coleman was born in 1875. When she was twenty-four, her father died, she was offered a job first in the flower shop, then in the bar at Claridge’s hotel. 

Around the time that Coleman began working as a bartender, circa 1905,  slightly less than half the bartenders in London were women. “Barmaids’ as they were called, were usually the daughters of tradesman or occasionally, young women from the “better-born” classes who had been “thrown upon their own resources” and needed an income.

Ada Coleman tending bar at the Savoy London, circa 1910. 

A work place rivalry . . . 

Though Coleman is sometimes cited as the first and only female head bartender at the Savoy, there was already another woman tending bar, Ruth Burgess, known as “Miss B” or “Kitty”, who started in 1902. Newspaper accounts say they were equally popular with customers, but it was Coleman who was interviewed when she retired and who later found her way into 20th and 21st century histories of cocktails and bartending. One account says the two women worked separate shifts for twenty years without speaking to one another because Coleman had refused to give Burgess the recipes for her popular drinks.

Coleman quickly developed a reputation for being a talented bartender and consummate hostess to the notable and affluent clientele of the Savoy.

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Need inspiration when choosing your cocktail?

How about ‘Ada’s Affection’, the best variation of Espresso Martini you will ever taste. Or sample one of our non alcoholic cocktails, all inspired by the Seedlip range of botanical spirits.