You’d never know it to see him action but Peter Dorelli, aka the Godfather of British bartending turns 80 today. Happy birthday Mr D (or P. Diddy as we like to affectionately call him.) Being the social super star that he is (he may have 50 years of bartending under his belt but he’s usually the first one on the dance floor and always, but always the last to leave), he was planning a big bash to mark the occasion. Alas, that isn’t to be. We’ll be raising our glasses to him regardless and we urge you to do the same.
Our celebration starts with a re-run of an interview from 2012.
I came to England from Rome in the late 1950s for three reasons:
1. To escape following in the family tradition of banking. 2. To avoid National Service. 3. The girls!
I over extended my work permit though, which meant I was on the run for four years…
I became a fugitive. The idea was to keep on moving so I didn’t get caught. I travelled from Glasgow to Land’s End, Truro to London, finally ending up working for a well-to-do journalist and his wife in Knightsbridge, cooking, cleaning and mixing up cocktails for their frequent parties.
That same employer turned out to be a man of great influence…
Fixing things with the powers that be for me to become official. That stamp on my papers was the most exciting moment of my life – I celebrated by getting drunk for a week!
I’m an extrovert, so bartending suited me perfectly…
I’ve worked in all areas of hospitality including concierge, banqueting and a stint as a kitchen porter but bartending suited my personality most. To be the perfect waiter you have to be invisible, no-one wants to notice you’re there. The same goes for a chef, they create amazing food then it goes out of the kitchen and that’s it – goodbye! I’m much more sociable. As a bartender you get to create, innovate and communicate, I love being able to interact with my guests.
One of my favourite jobs was working at the Pebble Bar at Stone’s Chophouse…
I loved the place. I worked there from 1965 to 1979 and as it was in the middle of Soho, the bar became an unofficial club for the film industry. Opening hours were from 11am-3pm, then 5.30pm-11pm but because the bar was upstairs, I was able to bend the rules and keep it open if my guests wanted to stay. Roger Moore, Aristotle Onassis, Maria Callas – they all came in and would often help themselves behind the bar.
Gin and tonic and Dry Martinis were the drinks of choice back in the 1960s…
Whisky Sours, Americanos, Bellinis and Champagne were also popular.
Richard Burton was one of the most glamorous people I ever served…
He had such style and such a voice. I also liked Harrison Ford – I liked the way he drank, he really savoured his Dry Martinis. Rod Steiger was another one who drank like he was tasting food. Even though he ordered a spritzer, when he sipped it, the pleasure was shown in his facial expression – it completely changed. Benny Hill was the same; his face reflected his complete appreciation for his whisky and dry ginger as he sat at the bar.
My crusade as a bartender was always to think ‘what can I do to make my customer feel special?’
I felt I’d done a good job when a customer would come into the bar after a hard day, literally shaped like a chair – all stiff back and tense shoulders – then see them visibly relax after a chat and a cocktail.
I also loved celebrations like birthdays or anniversaries. The guests were already in a good mood and I got the opportunity to make the occasion even more memorable. I would create special cocktails then ask the guest to think of a name for them; if it was an anniversary, I’d find out where they met, how many years they were celebrating and devise one drink for them to share with two straws. The guests loved it and so did I.
I was head bartender at The American Bar at The Savoy from 1979 to 1993…
There were seven of us in the 1980s, there are 18 now. Even in those days our average daily takings were £8,400. That’s a lot of cocktails, particularly allowing for inflation…
I’m a Gemini which makes me naturally curious…
It also means I like to go off the beaten track. When I was working at The Savoy, I’d take a different route home to Epsom every night, then rotate it every few weeks or so; the idea of driving past the same thing like a zombie absolutely horrified me.
As a bartender, it’s your job to give life to a cocktail…
Present your cocktails with a bit of history – not too much, just enough to give your drink some life, some purpose, some meaning. It makes your customer view their drink differently; it makes them think: “Oh, really? I never knew that…”
There’s something very special about cocktails…
They make the world feel like a more glamorous place.
Mind you, it’s not just about the drinks…
Some bartenders are so intense, they’re so busy ‘creating’, focusing on the mixology side that they forget about the main thing: the customer. To me, that’s not professional, it’s arrogance. I want a bartender to acknowledge me, engage with me, show me how they’re making my drink, make me feel they’re creating something special just for me. My tip for anyone who wants to make it in this wonderful career is, the cocktail isn’t in isolation, it’s a complete experience.”
And being the perfect host, Peter Dorelli created a special cocktail – just for The Cocktail Lovers:
35ml Havana Club (3 Anos)
20ml Madeira Malmsey
20ml fresh Clementine juice
1 tsp Bonne Maman fig conserve
Shake all ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker. Pour into cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of Clementine peel.
From Issue 3 of The Cocktail Lovers magazine, published April 2012