Ada Coleman remembered

08 March, 2017

On International Women’s Day, it seems appropriate to remember Ada Coleman, who was a leading London bartender much loved by the rich and famous in one of London’s top bars at the beginning of the last century.

Ada Coleman paved the way for women in the bartending industry, although many know little about her. According to a study titled Joint Committee on the Employment of Barmaids, published in 1905, fewer than half the bartenders in London were women.

Coleman was born in England in 1875, the daughter of a steward who worked at Rupert D'Oyly Carte’s golf club. When Coleman was 24 years old her father passed away and she was offered a job at the club. She proved a hit with customers and was transferred to D'Oyly Carte’s other establishment, Claridges hotel in 1899 in which she worked in the flower shop.

Coleman became popular with the wine merchant at Claridges and learnt from him how to mix and shake drinks. It was not long before she was thrust into the spotlight behind the bar at newly renovated American Bar at the Savoy Hotel also part of D'Oyly Carte’s portfolio.

At 24 years old Coleman was at the latter end of the age bracket for bartenders. This, however, did not stop Coleman from finding her way. She was said to be charismatic and made a great impression on all cliental from businessmen to the rich and famous including the likes of Mark Twain, Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Chaplin, Diamond Jim Brady and the then Prince of Wales.

It is said by cocktail historian, Ted Hughes that “not only was Coley…a woman in the world of male bartenders,” he said, "it was she who made the bar famous.”

Coleman was a keen mixologist and is mostly remembered for her creation of the ‘Hanky Panky Cocktail’ which was inspired by a comic actor, Charles Hawtrey best know for the ‘Carry On’ films.

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