The Intercontinental and One Aldwych are two of London’s great hotels and it’s no surprise that they have produced two distinguished and respected barmen. What is more surprising is that an art student from Tennessee can rise to equally impressive heights from a tiny four-tabled red-plushed bar in the old quarter of Lyon….and what is yet more surprising is how I managed to find him.
The answer is simple. I asked the universal fount of all knowledge – my hotel concierge.
I’m a veteran concierge interrogator. Call me cynical, but I like to think I’m better than a lie detector, I’m searching for pay-off indications before I’ve even posed my probe.
“I’m looking for an interesting cocktail to drink tonight” I stated. “No problem” replied the concierge (as they always do), “just ten seconds from here….” he began to give directions. Hmmm… so near, so convenient? My suspicions-antennae were already swivelling on full alert. “It really is a good place?” I questioned, fixing him with my third degree stare. “I assure you Madame, the barman there is,” an emotional gulp, “the best barman in the world!”
Now this was quite a claim, and very untypical of a concierge, a breed which usually likes to manage the expectations of its clients.
In any case, what could I lose by giving Florians, and its barman, an investigative visit? Well, as it turned out, about half an hour. Looking for Florians was needle in haystack stuff in the crowded streets of burgeoning banners, menu boards, and overflowing café tables. But finally I was there and handed a serious-looking menu by a black-trousered and braced blonde bar lady who looked as if she’d walked straight off the set of Cabaret.
I sat down on the crimson velvet padded bench to give careful consideration to the choice of drinks. “Have you chosen?” asked a voice with a soft southern drawl. I explained that the problem was that, although it was bubblingly, burstingly hot, I wanted a decent drink, something fresh but strong, not long. Did I want something aromatic or a sour he quizzed patiently. I hadn’t realised that cocktails could be divided into these two categories.
Nothing on the menu seemed quite to fit the bill although the ‘Down to Earth’ was very tempting – “it tastes like a park” the barman described. I explained that I was not just in search of a great drink, but also of the Best Barman In The World, one who could concoct the perfect drink of the moment for me. Paul Silvers laughed. “I know exactly who recommended me to you – it’s because I won an award here in France. I get to go to South Africa next month and compete against 49 other barmen from all over the world, the Diageo World Class Competition ” It was scary but exciting he told me with a ready smile.
He already seemed a long way from home. Having come to France to study art and finding himself short of cash Silvers turned to bartending and found he had a real bent for it. Now his business card describes him, wholly accurately, as a ‘liquid enthusiast’.
The drink he finally put together for me was, indeed, just the ticket: fresh but strong thanks to the gin and dill; summery thanks to the olive essence; and perfectly suited to me thanks to my love of Spain, and the taste of Spain, Tio Pepe.
“What’s the name of this cocktail?” I asked. “It doesn’t have one yet – you think of a name” Silvers instructs. “Well…” I muse, “it’s a really knock-out drink…how about It’s A Knock-out for a name?” I get an approving nod, “good name for a cocktail” he confirms. And so I came to name my first cocktail…now I just have to experiment with the proportions.