Holiday Cheers

From London to New York to Sydney, acclaimed bartenders are mixing festive cocktails for the season.

WORDS Laura Foster
November / December 2019

The cocktail #NoMakeup at London's American Bar at the Savoy. / Courtesy of American Bar

Getting together with friends and loved ones for drinks during the festive season is one of life’s great pleasures. Whether for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or New Year’s, choosing an exceptional bar and enjoying fine cocktails creates special memories that are cherished for a lifetime.

This is a season of tradition rather than innovation, meaning the return of classic cocktails or twists on them. The stock of hot libations rises, with drinks such as mulled wine and hot buttered rum provided by hosts who want to warm up their frosty guests. Cinnamon and nutmeg are dusted liberally everywhere, adding heady aromas to watering holes across the globe. That’s not to say that cold drinks are out, however. Nothing shouts “celebration” quite like a sparkling champagne cocktail. Here, bartenders from three of the world’s best bars share the drinks that they’ll be serving to guests during the holidays.

The American Bar at the Savoy in London. / Courtesy of American Bar
American Bar at the Savoy
Known the world over for its classic elegance—not to mention a long list of famous guests including Ernest Hemingway and Marilyn Monroe—the American Bar at the Savoy offers a Rolls-Royce-level drinking experience year-round. While the Savoy’s hotel lobby undergoes an elaborately festive holiday overhaul, the American Bar sticks resolutely to its art deco chic, with a centerpiece grand piano.

That’s not to say that the bar isn’t imbued with Christmas cheer, however. “There’s a magical air to the Savoy in November and December,” says Declan McGurk, the hotel’s director of bars. “People don’t just wander in—it’s a very conscious decision to come. As a result, I want people to have the American Bar experience, with the current cocktail menu, rather than something seasonal.”

That said, the bar’s pianist will be playing Christmas songs, and guests will be able to try the venue’s annual twist on an eggnog, a new tradition that was introduced in 2018. “Last year we made it with genever, which boasts malty characters that work particularly well with a sweet eggnog,” McGurk explains.

From the current menu, which is based on music played in the bar, McGurk is anticipating that the drink #NoMakeup will be popular. “Inspired by the song ‘I Say a Little Prayer,’ it’s a vodka-based cocktail made with Grey Goose and mixed with martini bitters. We take a dessert wine infused with coconut, add some pineapple syrup with peppercorn spices, stir it together and top it with champagne.”

The Dead Rabbit in New York City. / Brent Herrig Photography
The Dead Rabbit
There’s no rest for the team at The Dead Rabbit during the holiday season—the bar is one of the only venues in New York to stay open on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. A paean to the Irish pub, the venue’s atmospheric three floors with wood paneling and picture-packed walls provide the perfect venue to get cozy and hide from the winds blowing off the East River.

“Our winter menu features hot cocktails, nut milks and no- and low-ABV [alcohol by volume] drinks,” says beverage director Jillian Vose. “We have a mulled fortified wine made with Dubonnet. I added some spices and bright flavors like raspberry, rhubarb and hibiscus bitters with a touch of citrus, and made it into a fun low-ABV mulled-wine cocktail.” For those with dairy allergies, the bar will be serving a spiked hot chocolate made with walnut milk, Aberlour 12-year-old Scotch, nutmeg liqueur and Jamaican rum.

Visitors in New York for Thanksgiving will also get a warm welcome at the bar. Says Vose, “Thanksgiving is different in New York because no one’s here—everyone who lives here goes home, but we have a lot of Irish people on holiday who come.”

Irish coffee at Maybe Sammy in Sydney. / Photography by Daniele Massaci
Maybe Sammy
With the holiday season falling smack in the middle of summer, celebrations in Sydney often involve barbecues and beach visits. However, the team at relative newcomer Maybe Sammy is planning to bring some Christmas cheer through the prism of its distinctive theme. The “hotel bar without a hotel” is inspired by the famed Rat Pack-era Sands casino in Las Vegas, which promoted its headline Dean Martin concerts with the teaser “Maybe Frank, Maybe Sammy.”

“It’s very funny to live the Christmas season in Australia,” says co-owner and Italian bartender Stefano Catino. “Being in a hot country, we need to play with different flavors, rather than chocolate or almond.”
Instead, the bar is creating a twist on the light, refreshing Americano—typically a mix of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water—and calling it Amerrychristmas. Catino says, “We’re going to leave the structure of the Americano, but instead of using a red vermouth we’ll use a white one, and instead of soda we’ll use pineapple juice and a Christmas foam, which will be made with cinnamon, anise, cranberry and pomegranate. We’ll have some classic spice from the winter season, but mixed with more tropical flavors.”

There’ll be seasonal entertainment, too: “Given that the Rat Pack performed these beautiful Christmas songs, we’re going to be doing a Christmas night playing all these songs. We want people to dress up and enjoy it.”


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