With a pedigree stretching back more than a hundred years, the American Bar at the Savoy, in London, has become an integral part of bar history—earlier this month, the bar was crowned with the coveted number one slot on the annual World’s 50 Best Bars list. Beyond awards and acclaim, the Savoy’s dapper white-jacketed senior bartenders have made numerous contributions to the cocktail canon, with notable figures like Harry Craddock and Ada Coleman developing classics like the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and the Hanky Panky, respectively. Last month, another milestone was reached on the Savoy’s historic timeline, when Philippa “Pippa” Guy was promoted to senior bartender and presented with a white jacket, becoming the first woman since Coleman’s reign a century ago to be so honored.
Like many who carve out their profession behind the stick, Guy built her career from humble beginnings: she started out as a bar back, cleaning glassware at a local bar and grill as a way to earn some extra income while attending university. Eventually, she landed at Oporto, a rock ‘n’ roll dive bar and an institution in the Leeds music scene. The rough-around-the-edges bar is a far cry from the polished atmosphere of the Savoy, a glamorous Gilded Age throwback—but it was at Oporto that Guy says she first learned what hospitality really looked like. “The warmth and friendliness the place taught me is like nothing I have ever experienced in the industry,” Guy says. “Your regular guests become some of your best friends, and that’s just such an amazing lesson to learn going forward into a larger and more formal institution.” It was also at Oporto where she first met Declan McGurk, who now oversees the American Bar team as bar manager.
Guy joined the Savoy as a server in 2015, when a former coworker (Joe Schofield, now at Singapore’s Tippling Club) who had landed there a few months earlier encouraged her to apply for an open position. “It took all of around 15 minutes on the phone with him to convince me that this was a place where I was going to be learning in what seemed like a completely different atmosphere,” Guy says. She describes feeling “petrified” on her first shift: “I felt really exposed and onstage, especially wearing a dress and heels that I couldn’t really walk in. I was used to wearing Converse jeans shorts and baggy T-shirts in Oporto!”
Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights. Sign up for our award-winning Daily Dispatch newsletter—delivered to your inbox twice a week.
Over the past two years, Guy advanced from server to senior bartender—she received her white jacket in September. The jacket itself is an iconic piece of Savoy history, having first been brought behind the bar by Harry Craddock a century ago. “It was such an amazing feeling to put the jacket on and step behind that bar for the first time wearing white,” Guy says. “It felt pretty magical to be included in such a long-standing piece of bar history.” She adds that a male acquaintance once remarked to her that he’d never seen a woman wearing a white jacket and “that sparked my stubborn determination that I was going to work my socks off to do this.”
As for what led the bar’s management to present Guy with the milestone promotion? “The thing that strikes me about Pippa is her ability to create positive relations with people she interacts with,” says McGurk, adding that Guy’s humble attitude is such that “she literally cannot show off. This communicates very well across the bar as she constantly is connecting with the guests, and they react to this.” Guy herself says that her calm, steady personality helps balance out the bar’s team, adding that this kind of balance makes for a better guest experience. “I think that the more our team bounces off each other,” she says, “it makes it so easy to give our guests an amazing time at the American Bar.”
Gray Chapman is an Atlanta-based journalist who writes about spirits, beauty, and culture; she was formerly the managing editor of Tales of the Cocktail. Follow her on Twitter.