Five minutes with Shannon Tebay
Shannon Tebay is a bartender with a decade of experience in hospitality: for seven years she has been part of the team at Manhattan’s celebrated Death & Company where she was Head Bartender. Shannon has just crossed continents and made the exciting move to the Savoy Hotel where she will take on the role of Head Bartender at the historic American Bar. Having first opened in 1893, the American Bar is the oldest surviving cocktail bar in Britain, and has played host to legendary bartenders such as Harry Craddock and Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman.
We caught up with Shannon about her lockdown, how she feels about moving across the world, and what she is most looking forward to in her new role. Pass the sherry…
What’s your very first memory of food?
I have always loved food, and I absolutely adored going to the grocer with my Mom when I was very young. I was allowed to push a toy cart alongside her which I filled with my favourite things. The first job I ever remember wanting was to work in the grocery store because I thought the fresh produce was all so beautiful and I wanted to be around it all the time. While my professional ambitions have shifted a bit, I still love doing the shopping and my passion for food and eating has only grown.
What’s the first cocktail you properly learned to make?
The first cocktail I learned to properly make was an Old Fashioned. On the surface it may seem like a simple drink, but because of its simplicity, it actually teaches extreme precision. Without all the bells and whistles of many contemporary styles of drink-making, there’s nowhere to hide one’s mistakes, and even the most minute miscalculation becomes apparent.
What’s the recipe you can’t live without?
I adore gin martinis in almost any ratio. My go-to is a 50/50 martini (meaning equal parts gin and vermouth), but I’ve been known to enjoy them extra dry, dirty, and even upside-down (which is to say using the vermouth in the higher proportion). Once you take into account the vast selection of gins, vermouths, bitters, and garnishes, the permutations are truly endless.
What’s the one ingredient that you’d take to a desert island with you?
A desert island calls for some funky, high-ester, pot still Jamaican rum. Though, the more I think about it, perhaps I should just bring some ice (another very important cocktail ingredient).
What’s the meal you’d miss the most whilst there?
As soon as we reopened the bars in New York, my husband would stay up and wait for me to come home. He’s an incredible cook and would always have something hot and delicious waiting for me when I walked in the door. As simple as it may be, my favourite became his cacio e pepe. It’s always comforting and always delicious.
You can have a one-off dinner party on your island… who would you invite?
If I were to have a dinner party on a desert island, I would invite all the former head bartenders of the American Bar. I can only imagine the stories that could be shared if we were all to be in the same place, not to mention how much I could learn from their experience.
What would be your guests’ welcome drink?
My favorite pre-dinner drink, and what I would love to share with my guests, is a healthy pour (or two) of fino sherry. Few things wake up the palate as effectively as that particular style of bracingly dry fortified wine. It’s the perfect accompaniment to pre-dinner snacks, such as cheese, charcuterie, and nuts.
What cocktail did you make the most during lockdown?
If you make a man a martini, he’ll drink for a day. If you teach a man how to make martinis, he will make them for you throughout the duration of a lockdown, and beyond. I was fortunate enough to find myself in the latter scenario having taught my husband how to bartend in the downtime.
And… What did you binge-watch on TV during lockdown?
The Sopranos, The Wire, and every Academy Awards Best Picture winner from 1980-1990.
Where’s the first place you drank at when bars and restaurants reopened in New York?
When the city reopened it felt appropriate to revisit the last bar that I went to before the shutdown, which was Grand Army in Brooklyn, NY.
And what’s the restaurant (anywhere in the world) you are most looking forward to eating at, when travelling widely is possible again?
While I’ve only been in the UK for a week, I find myself already craving a cheeseburger from Long Island Bar in Brooklyn. I’ve had too many to count in my time, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who would agree that too many is never enough.
How has the move to the UK been for you?
Of course, any move is challenging (let alone a transcontinental one), but I can’t emphasise enough how welcome and supported I feel. Upon the announcement of my appointment to the American Bar, the outpouring of enthusiastic encouragement and well-wishes, both from the hospitality community in the US and the UK, was overwhelming. I’ve been nothing but impressed with the kindness of everyone I’ve met thus far.
What are you most excited about in your new role as Head Bartender at the American Bar?
I’m thrilled to see a new generation of American Bar bartenders experience the joys of service. After such a challenging time of distance and isolation, those of us who take great pride and gratification in the hospitality sector are aching to connect with our guests again, and I know that our guests are ready to do the same. I hope that this phase has reinforced the importance of coming together as a community, which is the heart and soul of the hospitality industry.