I never met Dick Bradsell. My brother-in-law worked for him at the now defunct Detroit bar, but I never took the chances I had to speak to the genius of mixology who, sadly, passed away at the weekend.
By all accounts, Bradsell revolutionised Britain’s cocktail scene, putting London (alongside New York) at the frontline in cocktail culture, and in the process trained the next generation of British bartenders. Bradsell tended bar all over London, including at Fred’s Club, the Zanzibar, the Groucho Club, Lonsdale and Match Bar. He reached the zenith of bartending by having a bar named after him: Dick’s Bar at Atlantic Bar & Grill, which is also no longer with us. But Bradsell has achieved a dash or two of immortality, inventing numerous modern classics, including the Espresso Martini, Bramble, Russian Spring Punch and Treacle.
If only for its ability to get you drunk and buzzed simultaneously, the Espresso Martini will stand the test of time. The story goes that back in 1984 a young, hugely famous model – whose identity seems to change depending on who’s telling the story – entered Fred’s Club with a request for a drink that would “wake me up and…” (on second thoughts, this anecdote is unprintable, but I’ll leave you to guess or Google the rest).
According to an interview with the brilliant Cocktail Lovers – Mr G and Ms S are writers, publishers and cocktail experts – Bradsell responded to the model’s candid request by mixing 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.”
The Bramble was also invented at Fred’s. It’s a spring cocktail mix of gin, lemon juice, sugar and crème de mûre (blackberry liqueur). Bradsell suggests garnishing it with some fresh red fruits, such as blackberries or cranberries and a slice of lemon. There is some debate about whether the cocktail should be shaken or built over ice, but Bradsell wasn’t too prescriptive. Jake Berger, owner and founder of Portobello Gin and Portobello Star, explains: “When I decided to settle once and for all a long running debate with one of his former disciples about whether a Bramble should be built or shaken, Dick said: ‘It depends how busy you are.’”
The Russian Spring Punch is the unobjectionable mix of vodka, lemon juice, crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), sugar, which after shaking is topped up with champagne. It’s a great option for any cocktail newbies put off by jumping in the deep end with a Martini, Negroni or Old Fashioned. The more hardened drinker, perhaps bored by one too many Old Fashioneds, should opt for the Treacle: dark rum, sugar, Angostura bitters and apple juice. It’s a cocktail for the ages, and like Bradsell himself, should be better known.
So to raise a glass to Bradsell’s genius – in this case four cocktails will do nicely.
I suppose there's a pleasure in admiring someone or something others are unaware of. And more often than not it’s not a good idea to meet your heroes. The crooked timber of humanity rarely lives up to our idolatrous instincts. Better to raise a glass to their genius – in Bradsell’s case four cocktails will do nicely.