Roots & Heritage

History of the United States Bartenders Guild

The USBG is one of the biggest and most influential bartending trade associations in the world. However, the organisation’s roots sprouted from the UKBG – and has an impressive history that spans across some of the most critical periods of American history. The basis of this article is authored by UKBG’s historical curator, Luca Rapetti – however, we will continue to add and update content on this blog page, as we uncover it! What follows has been pieced together from UKBG records, surviving newspaper articles and documents of public record.

The USBG’s Founder – Egidio ‘Angus’ Angerosa

Egidio Angerosa (25th November 1903 – died 17th April 1982), was a dedicated barman, born in Naples Italy. He found his way to London, heart of the British Empire prior to World War Two, and was among the founding members of the UKBG. He was a close colleague of Harry Craddock, and was said to have been instrumental in the institutionalisation of the Guild and its existence as one of the leading trade associations of the bar industry. He was best known for his extensive work with the UKBG, having created a number of cocktails as well being extensively involved in the guild’s operation. During this period, he worked at the historic Palace Hotel on the island of Jersey, in the Channel Islands.

In 1940 soon after the founding of the Guild, and the early years of World War Two and the German occupation of Jersey, Egidio emigrated to America, arriving in New York in 1940.
He then moved to Los Angeles where he worked at Mona Lisa Cocktail Bar together with legendary bartenders, Ray Portenza, Aldo Bartelone and Jerry O’Connor. He immediately set about initiating a California chapter of the UKBG.

In the December 1948 issue of The Bartender, Angerosa was officially recognised as the UKBG representative for the USA’s West Coast.

The Guild takes shape

In 1950, a cocktail contest organised by Angerosa took place at Young’s Market, Los Angeles. Beside the UKBG being the main organiser of this competition, some newspapers recorded that the competition was also sponsored by Pacific Coast Bartenders Union “of which Hugorosa is president” – ‘Hugorosa’ being a misspelling of of Angerosa. The winner of that contest was Chuck Berner of “Tail O’The Cock”. In an interview to the Los Angeles Times, Billy Kemp of the Ciro’s (most likely the nightclub on the Sunset Strip), took pains to explain that the UKBG was not a labour union but more a brotherhood – ostensibly to avoid any problems with anti-communist and anti-trade union sentiments in Mccarthy-era America.

All members of the Guild wore little Cocktail Shaker buttons to distinguish themselves. Among members of the Guild’s local branch, Kemp mentioned: W.E. Simpson, E. Angerosa, Connor Cuskelly, Max Stone, Juan C. Sotelo, Ted Giannos, C.A.McKee and Emmett Adrete.

In October 1951, Angerosa continuing his leadership of  the USA West Coast Chapter of the UKBG,  West Coast Convention and Cocktail Competition, on 8 October.  The Convention happened at the Rendezvous Room at the Biltmore Hotel, in Los Angeles. Honorary chairmen of the convention were Baron Long, president of the Biltmore,and George Young of Young’s Market Co.

According to Angerosa, at that time the branch had 25 active and high-skilled members. Of the Guild, Angerosa said,

“We exchange ideas and we try to keep up a high standard of ethics. We are a professional and, shall I say, esthetic society. Our motto is ‘Down with the best’. The bartender finally is coming into recognition as a useful citizen in the community. He preceded the psychiatrist in the art of listening to people’s troubles and giving them very sound advice and, I may add, for free.”

In January 1952, a team of six bartenders from Los Angeles flew to London, to represent the USA in an international cocktail competition organised by the UKBG. The competition ran from 23rd January to 9th February – an almost Olympic undertaking, relative to today’s contests. The bartenders, who mostly hailed from Tail O’The Cock, were Chuck Berner, Max Martin, Fred Pieroni, John Durlesser, Bob Leroy and H.B. Harris. This was the first time that US had entered a team – historically significant, given that America’s Prohibition Era had only recently ended. The team presented a selection of cocktails:

  • The Blue Fox
  • The Virginia Reel
  • The Bernise
  • The Hocker
  • The Tartan

Sadly, all of the them were eliminated at first round of competition, and from the news articles of that time we have surmised that Team USA’s biggest challenge was the taste convention of the judges, all European, who had a very different palate to Americans.

The First US National Cocktail Competitions

By October 1952, UKBG’s West Coast branch had grown to 45 Californian bartenders with John Durlesser being named as the head of it’s local group. On 11th November 1952, the group held its first National Cocktail Competition, at the Sarnez Restaurant, in Los Angeles. The Grand Prize was a trip to London to represent American in the 1954 International Cocktail Competition, second prize a trip to San Francisco; and third the Bol’s Cup.

The winner was Eddie Nordseick of the Sportsmen’s Lodge with the cocktail, “Ed’s Baby” made of Christopher Columbus Rum, Cherry Heering, banana liquer and lime juice. Second prize went to Elmer Brown of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, third prize to Joe “Popo” Galsini of Kelbo’s Fairfax with the cocktail Oli Oli, made of rum, lime juice, passion fruit juice from Australia and Falernum from Barbados.

One year later on 11th November 1953, under the leadership of John Durlesser as West Coast representative and Eddie Nordseick as Guild Chairman, the UKBG organised the United States Competition, hosted at the Sportsman’s Lodge. First place went to Joe Galsini with his cocktail “Pekake”, recipe of which includes 25% equal parts of pineapple, papaya and lime juice; 18% Van Der Humm liqueur; 7% Cointreau; 50% Christopher Columbus Rum. Second place went to Chris Buckner of Sportsmen’s Lodge with “African Queen”; third place to Elmer Brown of the Palace Hotel; and fourth place to Bob Le Roy of the Harlequin. This event drew one of the biggest audiences that the Guild had seen, with over 600 people attending.

8th November 1954, the 5th annual competition took place at Beverly Hills Hotel. At this point, entry began to be limited, with tickets only available from Guild members, highlighting the popularity of the event. Documents note that the most active members – which we take to mean the members who sold the most tickets there were Don Sampson, “Sug” Harris, Johnny Cain, Fred Peroni, Gil Brault, Jim Hooker, Sidney Hodemaker, Dave Harlig. The competition winner was Albert Carrillo, bartender at Hody’s Lankershim, with he cocktail “Frosy Dawn” made of 7 parts of rum, 2 parts of almond-flavoured liqueur and one part of maraschino liqueur, with a dash of orange juice. Second place was Paul Washburn of the Encore, with the cocktail “Keyborad”, made of vodka,
Crème de Cassis, Crème de Almond, dash of grenadine and lime juice. Third place went to Gil Brault of Wild Goose with “Malibú” cocktail, made of 50% vodka, 25% Kahlua, 25% Crème de Banana and an egg yolk.

Birth of the USBG

By 1955, according to local LA newspapers, the Guild’s West Coast USA branch had grown to over 70 members. John  Durlesser leadership was supported by a growing secretariat which included Bob LeRoy (Secretary), Ed Nordseick (sometimes spelled Nordsiek – Recording Secretary), and Fred Browne (Trustee). In an article by Bill Bush, he mentions that the Guild members had begun to consider “establishing their own guild under the banner of the USA Barmen’s Guild – but retain status as an international branch of the UKBG.

The organisation took pains to emphasise that it was not a trade union, but more of a social group, “dedicated to the uplifting of the profession” – again, we can only deduce to avoid scrutiny within the MacCarthy-era witch-hunts which had reached their peak. The International Cocktail Competition of 1955 took place in Holland – and this time, the US made it onto the medals board, with Albert Carrillo gaining second prize, and finally putting the US branch onto the map.

28th November 1955, saw the return of the US West Coast branch’s annual competition at the Beverly Hills Hotel, with Pete Zamuto, bartender at Plymouth001 House, crowned winner with the cocktail “Golden Comet”, which included Seagram’s Gin, Bols Orange Curaçao, Rose’s Lime juice, orange peel. Second place went to Bob LeRoy, third to James Pearson of Hyatt House, fourth to Bill Powers of Casa Cienega.

In 1956, according to some local newspapers, UKBG officers were John Durlesser (West Coast Representative), Joe “Popo” Galsini (Secretary), Vince Denny (Recording Secretary) and Fred Browne (Trustee). On 20th September of that year. the branch hosted a special lunch honouring Mr John P. Finney, famous tavern keeper in Great Britain and one of the directors of the historic Pimm’s Restaurant.

5th November 1956, saw the Seventh Annual Cocktail Competition which took place at Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. First place went to Thomas Stenger, mixologist at the Ambassador Hotel,
with a recipe (name currently unknown) made of 2/3 Bourbon, 1/3 Orange Curaçao, twist of lemon peel. Second place went to Robert Gordon, third to Paul Cornuke and fourth to Joe Ramatowski. This event attracted the largest attendance ever – an audience of more than 800 people. The the judging panel now featured celebrities of the era – such as the songstress Kay Starr, the columnists Art Ryon and Christy Fox, and Jack Butchel of the Tail O’The Cock.

By 1957, records show that the members there were Ben Ferris, Mario Saccalli, Gill Brault, Don Sampson, Ed Nordseick, Fritz Nahs, Chris Buckner and Paul Cornuke. John Durlesser was
still the West Coast Representative.

11th November 1957, annual cocktail competition at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, the winner was Albion Farley of the Engineers Club of the Biltmore Hotel. His cocktail was called “Scotch Frog” and included 1 ounce Vodka, ½ Galliano, ½ Cointreau, a bit of lime juice, dash of bitters and cherry juice. Second place went to Don Solberg of the Beach House in Manhattan, third place for Fred Costello of the Ambassador Hotel.

This article is part of a historical documentation project to detail the history of the UKBG, the USBG and our international chapters.Did we get something wrong? Do you have a critical piece of info, some photographs or any contribution in any way, please get in contact via info[at]ukbartendersguild.co.uk. 

2 thoughts on “History of the United States Bartenders Guild

  1. What an amazing article. I love the history of both of these Guilds and the amazing work that have done internationally for the bar and cocktail community.

  2. Thank you for sharing this great story of the USBG’s history!

    We are gearing up to celebrate our 75th anniversary next year in 2023 and its wonderful to hear about those early days and trailblazers who worked together to “uplift the profession”

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