King Cole’s Longest-Tenured Bartender Talks Bloody Marys and Salvador Dalí

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The King Cole Bar at the St. Regis. Photo: Robert K. Chin

Last night, the St. Regis Hotel looked a lot like it did back in the hotel's golden era, when Salvador Dali's ocelot roamed the halls and Frank Sinatra's crew regularly rolled up to the hotel's famed King Cole Bar, which, today, is often occupied by midtown office workers. But to celebrate the launch of Thornwillow Libretto — an ongoing literary series that includes “ruminations, rants, reminiscences, and more” from some of today’s top literary talents — guests sipped vintage cocktails, literary quotes were painted onto women in backless dresses (an homage to Salvador Dalí, who inhabited the hotel in the fifties), and a bathtub full of Champagne was on hand. Also on hand: bartender Louis Rodopoulos, who has been working at the St. Regis since 1955. We couldn't resist the chance to ask Rodopoulos about his tenure at the hotel, the recipe for the "original" Bloody Mary, and, obviously, Salvador Dalí's ocelot.

When did you start working at the St. Regis?
I’ve been working here for 56 years. I started working here on November 17, 1955. I came to the United States in 1953 from Greece. After two years, I met someone at a soccer game. I met someone who had worked at the St. Regis. So I sat next to him, and we start talking, so I said “I’m looking for a job. Do you know anybody?” This was Sunday. He says, “Come tomorrow.” I started working the next day. When I came here, I met my boss, who was a wonderful man. I worked with him for seventeen years. He hired me here as a barback, and after seven years, he made me a bartender. He was the inventor of the Bloody Mary.

Did he give you his secret recipe?
He taught me how to make the Bloody Mary. And he told me, “This is the right way. You do it the way I’m doing it.” I didn’t keep the recipe a secret. If someone comes to me and says, “I love the Bloody Mary,” I have to tell them how to make it. I can’t keep it a secret.

So what's the recipe?
Two days of salt, two dashes of pepper — cayenne pepper and black pepper. A couple dashes of Lea & Perrins sauce, and then squeeze a lime or two, and mix it all together. Shake it once or twice, then pour it into the glass with two and a half ounces of tomato juice and two ounces of vodka. You mix it all together, you put it into a highball glass, and then you put in the celery stick. So that was the whole story of the Bloody Mary.

Did you ever encounter Salvador Dalí's ocelot?
Oh yes, yes.

Was it on a leash?
Sometimes he had it on the leash. I seen him a few times walking on the second floor, going to the side room — it was not on the leash! The ocelot knew the place. As soon as it got out of the elevator, it was walking in front of him and going to the side room.

Isn't that dangerous?
Not really. As far as I know, when I was working in the King Cole Bar, Dalí would come in almost every Sunday with the ocelot, and he puts it on the armchair. There were two armchairs and he would sit in the other one and have his lunch. Sometimes he was feeding the ocelot something.