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  • John Wolff

Set 'em up, Joe

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

When I was a young clerk and junior dealer on the LME, I would sometimes hear the senior men say to one another as they left the morning session “Shall we go slumming today?”

This I soon learned was their slang way of saying ‘Shall we go to the Savoy for lunch?”

In those days, although there were a number of good chop houses in the City, there were very few haute cuisine restaurants. The Savoy Hotel in the Strand, being a short taxi ride away, presented a good opportunity for a fine lunch and time to get back to the LME to deal on the afternoon market at 3.40 pm (not always achieved!). Remember there was no out of hours trading then. Time spent between the morning and afternoon rings was for catching up with clients, confirming executions, typing up contracts and difference accounts, arranging payments or calling for margins, and if you were senior enough – lunching.

There was always a rivalry between the Grill Room and River Room restaurants at the Savoy, both very good. At the time the Grill Room was favoured by City people and an important part of the pleasure of dining there were the drinks before lunch in the American Bar, and that was largely due to the presence of the renowned head barman Joe Gilmore.

Joe had come from Belfast at the beginning of the war and  was famous for having served world leaders, film stars, captains of industry, and the top people in the City over many years. He was polite, discreet, smartly dressed, and had an extraordinary memory for faces and names, what his clients liked to drink, and the ingredients of a huge range of cocktails, some of which he created himself. He was also in demand for private parties. One of the more outstanding ones was when a group of his banking friends employed him to join their skiing party in Aspen. Joe helped them to go one up on their American friends by appearing each day half way up a mountain, in pristine white jacket and with gleaming silver cocktail shaker, to serve Vodka Southsiders for elevenses.

Churchill had enough confidence in Joe to leave his personal bottle of Black and White whisky with him during the shortages of war and immediate post war years.

He was a favourite of Princess Margaret, Frank Sinatra and many film stars, bankers, ship brokers, partners and directors from all parts of the City. In this way he regularly served and became friends with a number of LME people.

He also knew some of the big guns in the metal mining world because the Savoy was the hotel of choice for many of the visiting executives from American, Canadian and European mining companies. Interestingly, when it became fashionable for these mining houses to takeover Ring dealers, Joe was able to advise his LME friends what their new bosses’ favourite tipples were.

So I was delighted, and it was absolutely fitting, that Joe received lengthy obituary notices in the Telegraph and Sunday Times after his recent death aged 93.

In fact Joe’s connections with the LME were much closer than was mentioned. After he retired from the Savoy he still felt the need to continue working and so became head barman at the Viceroy Restaurant in the City. In this way his old LME friends were able him to introduce to a new generation of LME traders. Billiton had their own table there because their offices were in the same building. (Extraordinary foresight by the Dutch!) His bar became a popular watering hole, and we sampled many of his cocktails. Perhaps the best was his ‘Moonwalker’ created to celebrate man’s first landing on the moon, and the first alcoholic drink the astronauts drank after they landed back on earth.

To help celebrate the launch of the new Aluminium and Nickel contracts in 1978 and 1979, the LME’s PR man Brian Reidy persuaded Joe to create cocktails for these contracts. Joe quietly researched his brief. He found out Aluminium was made from Alumina, Alumina was made from Bauxite, and Bauxite was called Bauxite because it was first discovered in Les Baux, a village in Provence. He discovered what the local liqueur in that area was, and that became an important part of the recipe.

Joe also created a cocktail for me when I became Chairman of the LME, best described in the Observer column of the Financial Times on 17th August 1990 headed ‘Mixed Blessing’:

“Metal traders rarely drink alcohol until the sun has set, or so I am told, but John Wolff and some of his colleagues relented yesterday.

Wolff was recently elected chairman of the London Metal Exchange – the third member of his family to hold the position since his great grandfather, Rudolf Wolff, helped found the exchange. To mark the event, Joe Gilmore, former head barman of the Savoy Hotel in London, came out of retirement to create a cocktail in Wolff’s honour. Others to be honoured in this way include Prince Charles and astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Called the “Wolfram”, Wolff’s cocktail contained Wolfschmidt Kummel, Gordon’s gin, dry vermouth and fresh lemon juice, and may have been a little strong for the average Pina Colada drinker.

After the first tasting in the Exchange’ s boardroom, one recipient described himself as ‘not so much shaken as visibly moved’, by the experience.”

(As the LME official secrets period is now passed I can reveal that recipient was Miles Linington, who knows about these things).

Until nearly the end I used to keep in touch with Joe on the phone from time to time. Even after knowing him all that time his innate good manners meant he always continued to address me as Mr Wolff, or occasionally as Mr John, to distinguish me from my father Mr Fred, and uncles Mr Gus and Mr Jack.

What a pleasure to have known him.

Moonwalker cocktail:

Shake with ice

Grapefruit juice

Grand Marnier

3 drops of rosewater

Pour and top up with champagne

Wolfram cocktail:

Wolfschmidt Kummel

Gordon’s Gin

Dry vermouth

Fresh lemon juice




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