Before Dick Bradsell came along and shook up the bar scene in the capital, you couldn’t get a decent cocktail outside of a few key hotels* if you tried. We caught up with the creator of, amongst other contemporary classics, the Espresso Martini, Bramble, Treacle and Russian Spring Punch, over a pint of organic lager and asked him his thoughts on…

Growing up on the Isle Of Wight

“There were two choices if you weren’t sure what you wanted to do, you either went into sailing or catering. I was a useless sailor, I nearly got killed twice in my two attempts at sailing so I got a job washing up instead.”

Photograph of Dick Bradsell courtesy of Ben Millar Cole

Leaving home and going to London

“When I was about 17 my parents said, ‘you know you had that party, when your friend beat up your sister’s friends from the rugby club and the police were called and we had to have the house redecorated? And then you went and did it again? Why don’t you go and live somewhere else?’ So I was sent to live with my uncle in London.”

Getting his first job

“My uncle ran the Naval & Military Club on Piccadilly. It was a good grounding because I had to do everybody else’s job: chambermaid, receptionist, cook, functions, served the breakfasts – I ran the staff canteen for a bit. I did pretty much everything really.”

Becoming a bartender and discovering cocktails

“A friend of mine got me a job as a runner and bar back at the Zanzibar Club in the late 1970s. It was a revelation. The owners had strong ideas of how they wanted it. The bar manager knew all about cocktails – they were his life. He took me under his wing, taught me the ideas behind great drinks and gave me The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks [the classic 1948 book by David A. Embury]. He also taught me the way to improve was not to have an ego about your drinks. If you find someone making it better, then copy them. Keep going, trying to improve. That’s why I still taste all my drinks.”

Creating the Espresso Martini

“It was at the Soho Brasserie around the late 1980s. A young American model asked for a drink that ‘wakes me up and then f**ks me up’. The coffee machine was next to where I made drinks –  I added a double shot of vodka, Kahlua, Tia Maria, sugar, shaken with very, very strong coffee. That was when the drink was on the rocks, the Vodka Espresso. Years later at Match we served it straight up as the Espresso Martini. Then when we opened the Pharmacy with Damien Hirst it became the Pharmaceutical Stimulant.”

What makes a good drink last

“Lots of people have invented good drinks in the last 20 years – some are still around, some are forgotten. They have to be liked by the customer or have something memorable about them that makes somebody else want to make them. The Espresso Martini is a robust recipe, it can be played around with, altered in some way. One bar had about 15 variations on their menu, which is great.”

Peter Dorelli, former Head Bartender at The Savoy 

“He is so good, so fast and so polite. His personal relationship with the customer is amazing. When he’s around the bar becomes a different place – it really impressed me that.”

Doing a shift at The Savoy

“Oh yeah, it was like the Naval & Military Club – I felt right at home there.”

Tony Conigliaro, flavourist and former protégée

“Tony worked with me for years. He finds it easy to do something excellent.”

Early ambitions

“What I wanted to do at the Zanzibar was make really high quality drinks really fast – I don’t see why people should have to wait.”

*The 1980s and trying to find a good cocktail/drink scene

“Most places didn’t have a f**ing clue, so we found the places that were making good cocktails, that did have a clue. Like The Savoy, you didn’t just go there for the drinks you went for the atmosphere. And Duke’s: amazing, you felt you had walked out of London and into somewhere really grand. The Ritz: the guy there was in his 70s, maybe older, he was just so good at his job. He made a great Strawberry Daiquiri, I copied it. He would explain why it was good and what he was doing.”

Style bars

“The first style bars were up North and Scotland, they weren’t in London. Up there it was a way of keeping builders out. In London they just made beer expensive.”

Opening his first bar in the 1980s

“Fred’s Club was unique. It was the first young people’s club. It became the place to go for music and fashion people, like the staff from The Face and ID.”

Dick’s Bar at The Atlantic

“Oliver Peyton really wanted to do something swish. It did me a lot of good that place, it made my career having a bar named after me.”

Still coming up with new cocktails

“I get a bigger thrill now from inventing a drink than 20 years ago. I wanted to make a drink that was pink called the Pink Chihuahua. It was going to be with mescal but the flavour was too strong, so I changed to tequila. I worked on it for about two weeks, when I got it I danced around the corridor. I knew it was a good drink, it pleased me.”

Why he hasn’t written a cocktail book

“I think the best cocktail book has already been written, it’s called The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David A. Embury.

Bars that fail

“English people don’t complain, they just don’t go back.”

You can find Dick at The Pink Chihuahua, 25-27 Brewer Street, W1F 0RR. www.elcamion.co.uk 

Photograph courtesy of Ben Millar Cole benmillarcole.com, as featured in the winter 2013 issue of The Cocktail Lovers magazine.

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