I’m sat at the bar of Blind Pig in Soho and two Espresso Martinis have just been placed on the pass, ready for a waiter to whisk them away to parched lips. Frothy, two-toned and garnished with neatly placed dark coffee beans – always three – those drinks are practically begging me to order one. It’s often like that with Espresso Martinis, the sight of them pushes everything else out the window.
“We’ve just spotted those,” I tell the barman who’s come to take our order. “And they look really delicious.” He smiles, and without me even having to put it into words he’s off to make more.
I usually feel slightly conspicuous ordering an Espresso Martini, mostly because I know they can be a bit of nuisance to make if the bar hasn’t prepared a ton of fresh coffee. But today I feel even stranger, because I’m drinking with Bea Bradsell.
Today, Thursday August 10th, marks the beginning of London’s first Espresso Martini Festival, celebrating the iconic London cocktail and heavenly combination that is caffeine and booze. Sadly its inventor Dick Bradsell won’t be here to see the city worshiping his creation for three days straight, but his daughter Bea will be.
Bea holds a special spot in the heart of many London bartenders and barflies, after all she spent her childhood in and out of the industry, often seen perched at the end of the bar with a Shirley Temple disguised in a cocktail glass, watching her father ply his trade. The bar world, and Dick’s unique approach to it, were the backdrop in front of which Bea grew up.
With a fast immersion, stirring Old Fashioneds at the tender age of six for Dick’s party guests and carrying trays of Champagne by the time she’d reached her teens, Bea’s future seemed set in stone. “Dad had never really been around kids, he didn’t exactly know what to do with them, but he did know how to train bartenders. I suppose we impart the knowledge we have.”
Despite saying Dick never intended for Bea to follow in his footsteps she made her way into the bar world, going on to work alongside Dick at his last spot in Soho at El Camion’s Pink Chihuahua before she ventured across east to become the formidable host at Callooh Callay, a position she’s only just recently left. Manning the door, clipboard in hand is how I first met Bea, in her element, the personification of a people person.
But Bea, just like myself, is also the definition of a Daddy’s girl and inside the two glasses that have just been delivered to us, is a part of the legacy her father left behind him. Frothy brown liquid in a glass has never felt so poignant. But I shouldn’t have worried, for unlike me Bea is also a practical person.
“I think he would love how much bartenders hate making his drinks,” says Bea, taking a sip of Dick’s most famous invention, “only because of how much people love them. The Espresso Martini has become the new ‘sorry I don’t have mint for your Mojito.’ Sorry I don’t have coffee.”
Finishing our Espresso Martinis we take a walk through rainy Soho, the streets littered with Dick’s old haunts. On Old Compton Street Bea marches across the traffic to show me some signs about the area’s history, which talk about the old drinking clubs, including the Colony Room - the most famous of all and another spot her Dad tended bar. “That was when all the young creatives would hang out together whether they were artists, musicians, writers or people like Dad,” says Bea.
“It’s strange that he’s hailed for the drinks he created but for him it was never about that. Dad saw the bigger picture, he saw the night and how it was going. The atmosphere. The music. I wish I knew the exact number of couples he brought together because he was great at it. It was always about the people.”
Dick was in the good habit of always taking his best drinks with him, and having originally started out with the Vodka Espresso he renamed it as the Pharmaceutical Stimulant when he started work at Pharmacy, which then eventually became known as the Espresso Martini thanks to the glass it was served in.
“I hear people often say he could never have named something so simple as the Vodka Espresso, but he truly did. Once he moved to Pharmacy he changed the name to something more crazy. But a lot of Dad’s drinks were simply named, the Wibble which makes you wibble wobble but never fall over, the Carol Channing or the Russian Spring Punch.”
Settled down for a night cap, an Irish Coffee from Swift, we start chatting about what’s next for Bea. Having left bar work she’s currently joined our team for London Cocktail Week, busy with spread sheets, brands and bars.
London’s Espresso Martini Fest has had her input too – and alongside the team she’s been personally visiting every bar involved – making sure things are up to scratch.
In February last year when Bea and her family lost Dick they received a helping hand from The Benevolent charity for the drinks industry, and this Espresso Martini Fest Bea is raising funds for them at the bartender’s brunch on August 13th.
And for those that just want to enjoy his creation – 65 bars across the capital are serving up bespoke £5 cocktails for the next three nights…