Dick Bradsell: A Good Bartender (1960 – 2016)
On the afternoon of Sunday, February 28, the bartending community received word that it had lost a legendary bartender and industry icon who managed to do something that many of us can only dream about. Dick Bradsell can be credited with creating a modern cocktail culture in a time where there was none and becoming a well known and very much loved face of the drinks industry not just near his home in the UK but globally.
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Losing A Legend
On the afternoon of Sunday, February 28, the bartending community received word that it had lost a legendary bartender and industry icon who managed to do something that many of us can only dream about.
Dick Bradsell can be credited with creating a modern cocktail culture in a time where there was none and becoming a well known and very much loved face of the drinks industry not just near his home in the UK but globally. Tributes have been pouring out over social media and it is incredibly touching to see just how far-reaching his influence in the industry has been.
Shacking Things Up
Entering The Bar World
Dick was originally from the Isle of Wight and proving very early on that he was always one for a party, he ended up throwing one that trashed his house, twice.
He was sent away to London where his uncle, a former naval officer, taught him many aspects of the catering trade during the mid 70s. Luckily for us he was given an opportunity as a runner and barback at the Zanzibar Club in the late 1970s where he fell in love with hospitality and cocktails. He moved on to be bar manager/owner at many successful bars on the London cocktail scene such as Fred’s Bar in Soho, which was his first bar in the 1980s.
A Great Start
He could also be found at Quo Vadis, Detroit bar which was one of the longest opened independent cocktail bars in London before its recent close, Pharmacy, El Camion and not forgetting the place that he was most famous for, Atlantic Bar and Grill where the bar was named after him.
He attributed that bar to his success and said, “It did me a lot of good that place, it made my career having a bar named after me.”
What can be said of him and seen through the many testimonials of the people that knew him is that aside from creating great drinks he was very much a people person.
Service was first and foremost in any bar that he captained and his style of service was completely instrumental to his success.
“Service” is perhaps the wrong word because with Dick it was friendship. He was the epitome of the type of bartender that we pretty much only see in films these days. Like a trusty friend, Dick was the shoulder to cry on, the therapist, the entertainer, the socialite, the map, the bartender and the culture and art of London all rolled into one. Through his work and companionship, many a regular customer followed him wherever he went.
Image by Alcohol Professor
Changing The World
It’s overwhelmingly difficult to describe exactly how this one man is essentially responsible for us all being in the positions we are today.
But if it wasn’t for Dick and his affinity towards hospitality and well balanced drinks, cocktails might never have climbed out of an era of sickly sweet, juice-filled concoctions towards the great drinks that we have now. It could be said that during the 1980s he single handedly changed the face of the London cocktail scene and, some might say, the world. This was such a momentous achievement for someone who was only in his 20s at the time.
Becoming A Beacon
He was essentially responsible for paving the way for ‘career bartending’ and changing the attitude of consumers towards the people who work in the industry.
He became a beacon for other bartenders too when contributing articles to CLASS magazine and collaborating alongside his protégé Tony Conigliaro for the now out of print Theme magazine.
It was Dick who became one of the torchbearers in championing the use of fresh fruit juice in drinks throughout the 80s and 90s and always campaigning the use of proper measures and consistency in the quality of cocktails.
Leaving A Legacy
Through him many a now successful and renowned bartender learned their trade but even those of us who never had the pleasure are using techniques that he implemented throughout his career.
Somehow he fathered so many drinks that are considered modern classics. We have Mr. Bradsell thank when we drink a Bramble (invented in 1984 at Fred’s Bar in Soho), an Espresso Martini (first called a Vodka Espresso before later being renamed a third time to Pharmaceutical Stimulant in 1998 for the opening of Pharmacy), a Treacle, a Carol Channing, a Wibble and a Russian Spring Punch to name a few.
Image by Kris Kesiak
Following His Steps
It’s hard for me as someone who never had the luck to meet Dick in person to accurately portray the legacy that he leaves behind so here are some of the tributes from the bartenders and friends that knew him:
Jake Burger, Portobello Road Gin
As a young bartender I eagerly awaited his quarterly page in GQ magazine, which was back then about the only intelligent cocktail writing one could find in England.
His words convinced me that perhaps this could be an actual job – not just something to do whilst I figured out what I was going to do for the rest of my life, but that is a story for another time.
Aside from his immeasurable contribution to the industry I’ll remember him for just being a wonderful host and a thoroughly entertaining chap. He never took things too seriously, a rare and wonderful attribute in this world.
A Night At El Camion
I was lucky enough to be there when he heard the news that his Tales of the Cocktail Lifetime Achievement Spirited Award  had been engraved to the legendary, erm, Dick Bradshaw…
I think he was more pleased about that than he was about winning the award.
One night in El Camion there was a very drunk, very loud, very annoying and very large gentleman, who sat at the bar with terribly low slung jeans on and with conversation which was distinctly irritating to anyone unlucky enough to be in the vicinity.
A Great Presentation
Being drunk myself, and no doubt trying to impress somebody I surreptitiously placed my business card in the mans arse crack.
About five minutes later he discovers this and standing to his feet loudly asks Dick “Who the f**k is Jake Burger?” Dick looks around and says: “Jake?… He left ages ago…” I already knew before that there was a reason why he was the greatest, and it wasn’t just because of his delicious drinks, but that night certainly reinforced my view.
Invented By God
He turned up at Rematch [cocktail competition] dressed as a female librarian wearing a Flavor Flav style alarm clock around his neck, except it wasn’t actually a clock it was a flask.
Discretion forbids me from sharing what was in the flask but it was a little more stimulating than whiskey…
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 he said: “It depends how busy you are…”
He once informed me that the Piña Colada was “..invented by God.”
Image by Tracy Benjamin
Never Deify A Bartender
Our industry and our world is less interesting for his departure but his legacy is written in the menus and the bars of the worlds great cocktail cities.
Dan Collins, Bartender
In late 2009, I returned to London looking for a bar job.
The first place I went to was a grotty tequila bar in Soho, for some reason. Behind this bar, strangely, was a man whose picture and name I’d seen and heard in the few venues I’d worked at previously. Remembering one of the golden rules, “Never deify a bartender,” I said hi and got drunk.
Jumping Between Bars
When I mentioned I was looking for a bar job, this man told me to check out every bar in Soho.
No application was successful except for The O Bar. I told him I’d gotten the job, and he gave me a shot and joked, “Never mind, you gotta start somewhere.”
When that job fell through on Christmas Eve, 2010, the first place I returned to was El Camion. The same man was working, and he dealt with an agonising shift’s-worth of rants and crazy customers before telling me to check out one of his old bars in Covent Garden.
“Detroit Bar,” he said. I thanked him, and left to check it out.
Beginning The Journey
When I reached the venue, I met a (very young) Liam Broom, who told me that Dick Bradsell himself had called ahead.
It wasn’t long before I was offered the job, and subsequently began my journey down the road that lead me to where I am today.
Literally every single person I know in London I met through Detroit and, by association, Dick himself. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have met most of the people in my life that I’m thankful for.
Because Of Him
Because of him I bought my first Hawaiian shirt.
Because of him I entered my first cocktail comp. Because of him I bought my first cocktail book. Because of him I’ve had some great experiences, and ironically because of him I’ve forgotten quite a few too. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be a bartender.
…And while I’ve used many words to explain how important he was to me, there are no words I could use to thank him for it.
Image by Peter Clark
Thanks For Everything
RIP, Mr Bradsell. Thanks for, literally, everything.
(In An Excerpt From Difford’s Guide)
Dick had a gift for friendship.
Yet he also had a generous heart, an eye for waifs and strays who needed something to be getting on with, for interesting people who could do interesting things, for friends of friends in need of a new career, for people, in general who could help each other out.
In an article in CLASS magazine in 1998 Dick was asked what was the best present he’d been given to which he replied “My daughter Beatrice.”
Now all grown up Bea has been making waves in hospitality herself and was collaborating with her father on a book. In a touching post on Facebook, Bea acknowledged the overwhelming support she has been receiving from friends and also took the time to say thank you to all the medical staff within the NHS that helped to look after him. She goes on to give advice to others in hospitality about the importance of thinking of your customers.
Join and Donate
A friend of the family has, with Bea’s blessing, started a Just Giving page where all donations go towards The Benevolent, an amazing charity whose mission is to work with our industry and charity partners to combat challenging social issues such as long-term illness, homelessness, addiction, poverty and disability, as well as providing practical, emotional and financial support to those from our trade in need.
Please join us here at Alcohol Professor in donating to this wonderful charity in Dick Bradsell’s honor.
Finally, I leave you with a quote that I think captures the essence of Dick Bradsell and how he viewed and valued the industry that so many of us have come to love.
“A good bartender is trained to introduce you to others.” – Dick Bradsell 1960-2016