The Philosopher

07 December, 2017

Hamish Smith meets Remy Savage, the new head bartender at former World’s Best Bar, Artesian


HOW DO YOU pronounce Savage? As the French do – So-varge? Or perhaps the Anglophonic Sav-edge? For Remy Savage, brought up in France by an Italian mother and Irish father and now living in London for his new job at Artesian, either will do. Indeed, to him a question doesn’t have to yield an answer, it just has to question.

Savage is inquisitive, bright and charming. Probably he’s always been that way. As a precocious student he completed school a year early and went on to take a degree in philosophy at the University of Lyon. “Philosophy was a passion and still is a very large part of my life”, he says.

Savage’s winding road took him to Oxford University in England for a master’s degree, but he never finished. “I’m very interested in things I don’t know about, but I also get easily bored,” he says. By corollary of his mental merry-go-round, Savage’s interests are diverse. You could pick on a host of subjects to talk about – boxing, art, chess…

“I got really into chess in the UK and had an Elo level of 2,000-and-something,” says Savage. He describes his standard as “decent” but the internet disagrees: Savage is ‘expert’ level. If he had stuck at it, would he have become a master? “You either have to be brilliant or you have to work really hard to get there – I’m not brilliant and I don’t have the ambition to work hard at chess. I’m just happy to play and have fun.”

That’s how he sees bartending – though this has not been a fleeting pastime. His father has been in the business for 35 years and runs an Irish bar in Lyon. “I bartended in Irish pubs for five years and while in Oxford I entered a few competitions.”

In 2013 he landed a job at famed Paris bar Little Red Door, by 2015 was its head bartender and in 2016 he launched the seminal Evocative Menu. If it had used words, it would have Savage written all over it.

“Words have no relationship with flavour – that’s the problem with words, we can do better, I think. So we looked at whether there is any universality in the evocative power of flavour.”

This question led to Savage commissioning 11 artists to create visuals of the team’s cocktails. Guests would have to choose their cocktails based on a menu led by pictures. “I’m not certain it works – that you can understand flavours [through pictures] – but the point was to ask the question of how we drink.”

So how do you follow that? Once again Savage didn’t look to what he knew, but what he didn’t.

“I knew nothing about architecture so it was a chance to learn. Architecture appealed because it is both necessity and art. You do not build the Taj Mahal out of necessity.” His team enrolled on a 250-hour online course in architecture with Oxford University before working on any drinks. “We isolated architectural movements and tried to extract the mindset behind the design.” Each drink of the Applied Architecture Menu represented one of these movements.

To Savage, end results are just by-products of the joyful pursuit of why, where, what, who and when. So what questions might Savage ask at Artesian? He kicks off with what no one could have expected – a menu of rebooted classics called Determinism & Classic Cocktails. Savage will examine ingredients and the role the environment plays in determining their flavour. Then, from next March comes Artesian Moments: Metaphysics & Statistics.

“I like ideas more than I like drinks. I think it’s interesting not to think like a bartender – to me the industry is a playground to be creative.” Artesian, famed for its conceptual cocktails, might be the answer Savage wasn’t looking for.

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