Ada Coleman and the Hanky Panky
Ada Coleman (1875–1966) was one of the first woman bartenders. She also is one of the most influential mixologists in history. It’s only fitting, then, that we kick off Women's History Month with the cocktail that Coleman is most remembered for: the Hanky Panky.
Coleman was the head bartender at the American Bar at London's Savoy Hotel from 1903 to 1926. To date, she is one of only two women in history to hold that position.
Coleman was a gifted bartender and consummate host, often throwing parties at her home for the bar's famous patrons, including Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Mark Twain, and the Prince of Wales. Much beloved, Coleman was affectionately called "Coley" by her customers.
The story behind the Hanky Panky illustrates the fondness Coleman's patrons had for her, as well as the affection she had for them.
In a 1925 interview with the Daily Express, Coleman recalls how she created the drink for Sir Charles Hawtrey, a comedic actor whom Coleman regarded as 'one of the best judges of cocktails that [she] knew."
"Some years ago, when he was overworking, he used to come into the bar and say, 'Coley, I’m tired. Give me something with a bit of punch in it.'"
Coleman enjoyed experimenting and creating cocktails that would appeal to her customers, so Hawtrey was in luck.
"It was for him that I spent hours experimenting until I had invented a new cocktail," said Coleman. "The next time he came in, I told him I had a new drink for him. He sipped it, and, draining the glass, he said 'By Jove' - people said that back in the day - 'This is the real hanky-panky.'"
Hanky Panky - a reference to British slang at the time for "magic" or "witchcraft" - was a sweet gin martini with a few dashes of Fernet Branca. The cocktail ironically survives because of its inclusion in Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail (1930). As Emily Bell writes, Craddock may have had a hand in forcing Coleman out of the American Bar in 1926 because he wasn’t comfortable having a woman head bartender. The details are unclear.
Coleman nevertheless is regarded by Savoy bartenders to this day as a legend, and the Hanky Panky was listed by Drinks International in 2015 as one of the top 50 best-selling cocktails.
The Hanky Panky has quickly become a new favorite night cap. While we enjoy the bitterness of the Fernet Branca, we admit that the amaro is an acquired taste. Embrace your inner Coley and experiment to find what's magic to you.
Ingredients 2 oz London Dry gin 1 ½ oz sweet vermouth 1 tsp to ¼ oz Fernet Branca (depending on taste)
Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a coupe and garnish with an orange twist.