I first met Dale DeGroff three years ago in a bar in Manhattan. I was writing a piece for Esquire magazine on a cocktail safari in New York and Dale was to be the guide for our group. Who better?
By 3 a.m. and after seven bars and fourteen drinks, it was just me and Dale. The safari was over… but there was still time for One Last Drink. Dale had a place in mind. We made our way to the Lower East Side, slipped into Milk & Honey and a whole new world of drinking. We sat talking at the bar, drank our rye whiskey nightcaps and I never looked back. One year later, Dale, Sasha Petraske and I opened Milk & Honey in London.
Of course I knew about Dale long before I met him. I’d made my first pilgrimage to the Rainbow Rooms in New York in 1992, when I was twenty-six years old and in search of the Holy Grail of cocktails. I don’t know whether he was tending bar that night but I like to think that Dale mixed m my first real Martini – house style!
Awed and inspired by that classic bar with its fabulous drinks and snappy service, it was another five years before I opened Match ECI in Clerkenwell. If Dale had been there in the beginning, the last six years would have been so much easier . But with six bars now and Dale as our ‘Director of Drinks’, we’re slowly making a difference. I thought we knew it all, but after one week of working with him, I realized how much we were missing. He changed our whole juicing programme, made us make our own sugar syrup, tore up our recipes and drinks lis, complained about our glassware, our ice cubes, lime wedges and lemon slices, and made us shake drinks until our ‘goddam arms dropped off’.
I’ve loved working with Dale these past couple of years (he comes back every month for a week or so), knowing that he’s truly the best in the business. He’s been called a lot of things – the Da Vinci of drinks, the Billy Graham of the holy spirits, the Elvis Presley of bartenders, the King of Cocktails – but I just called him ‘Mr Dale DeGroff’, because it sounds right and, when it comes to cocktails, that name says it all.
Much off his working life and most of his favourite drinks are in this first edition for the UK – a brilliant work by a brilliant man. It’s the kind of book you can dip into or just read right through ‘til morning. It’s also the reference work for anyone wanting to mix drinks – a must have for every home or professional bartender.