Northern Ireland

Belfast barman who served cocktails to the stars dies aged 93

Joe Gilmore Image copyright From the book 'Joe Gilmore and his Cocktails'
Image caption Shakin' up a storm: Belfast boy Joe Gilmore made his name in the American Bar in London's Savoy

When Frank Sinatra croons: "Set 'em up Joe" in One for My Baby, the words set a few hearts a-flutter in Belfast.

For the Joe called upon to get the drinks, was Joe Gilmore from the north of city who made his name at London's Savoy Hotel.

He poured drinks for Charlie Chaplin - who left his wife at the door as he had a sup.

Joan Crawford loved whiskey sours, Ernest Hemmingway liked punch, Laurel and Hardy romped through the menu.

When Joe was behind the American Bar, times were good and the stars knew their secrets were safe.

The former head barman at the Savoy died on 18 December aged 93 years.

Joe was one of a family of 10 and grew up on the Limestone Road in north Belfast.

In 1938, when he was 16, he got the boat for London with two white shirts and a couple of pounds.

Joe's nephew, Michael Cunningham, said he started in the American Bar in the Savoy when he was 18 years old.

Image copyright Gilmore family
Image caption The man behind the moon walk -Joe Gilmore knew the right sup for Neil Armstrong

The American was to cocktails "what Saville Row was to suits", said Michael.

"He met the great and the good there - George Bernard Shaw, Sinatra, Churchill.

"Joe always knew what people wanted. Joan Crawford loved whiskey sours, Hemmingway liked platters of punch, Laurel and Hardy drank through the menu to find a drink they liked."

Savoy archivist Susan Scott said his position would have been the envy of many.

"During the war was a very good time to be in the Savoy, because a lot of American stars stopped off in Britain on their way out to entertain the troops.

"There was a huge influx of celebrities in the hotel at that time and everyone got to know the bartender.

Image copyright Gilmore family
Image caption Just right: A floral tribute to former Savoy head barman Joe Gilmore

"So he got to know all sorts of people during the war - even Ronald Regan, who was only an actor in those days.

"Everybody knew him, he had such a twinkling smile and came across immediately as friendly and approachable. "

The first drink that Neil Armstrong had after landing on the moon was Joe's Moonwalk which is still for sale in The Savoy.

Joe made it up and the Savoy sent it off in a flask.

"He got a letter from Neil Armstrong thanking him and saying it was the first drink the astronauts had when they came out of quarantine," said Michael.

Charlie Chaplin would come to the Savoy with his wife - as women were not allowed in the American Bar at that time, he would leave her at the door whilst he supped a martini or two.

In the 1970s, Princess Margaret invited Joe to Mustique and even paid for his flight, just so that he could mix cocktails for her.

Image copyright Gilmore family
Image caption Princess Margaret invited Joe to Mustique

His secret, said his nephew Michael was that although the drink flowed freely, his lips were forever sealed.

He poured the drink, but never dished the dirt.

"He was very, very discreet," he said.

"He probably knew stories that would make your hair stand up, but he would never disclose any information," he said.