Tributes have been paid around the world to Henry Besant, a bar and drinks industry legend, who has died aged 40. From Britain to Mexico, he is remembered for his passion, enthusiasm and generosity and the inspiration and support he gave to everyone he worked with.
Since he passed away on Thursday, Twitter and Facebook have been full of tributes to Henry alongside pictures from the many good times he shared with his friends in the industry. “The drinks industry lost one of its brightest stars today,” wrote cocktail historians Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller.
Henry worked in the bar industry for over 20 years, running venues such as Mas Café and 57 Jermyn Street through to The Lonsdale and Green & Red as well as bars at St Martin’s Lane and Sanderson hotels and the Trafalgar Hotel. With Dré Masso, he formed consultancy the Worldwide Cocktail Club, working with leading bars and brands and developing Olmeca Altos tequila. He was also a director of bar and drinks consultancy Strange Hill.
Ben Carlotto, training manager at Bacardi USA, spoke for many when he posted: “You will live on forever in those you have loved, influenced and inspired all around the world.” Cleo Rocos of The Tequila Society wrote: “A truly wonderful and lovely man. He will be greatly missed.”
Adam Elmegirab, bitters producer and consultant, posted: “The words ‘legend’ and ‘great’ are bandied about too easily nowadays but, when it comes to Henry Ernest Bryden Besant, they’re more than fitting.”
Working in the service industry from the age of 16, Henry’s first big break was in 1993 when he opened the legendary Mas Café in Notting Hill, which he ran for four years. In 1997, the group expanded, with Henry becoming director and general manager of 57 Jermyn Street, an exclusive Mayfair members club.
Three years later, Henry went on to oversee bar operations at St Martin’s Lane and Sanderson hotels in London for Ian Schrager Hotels. After establishing these award-winning venues, he left in 2001 to oversee the development of Rockwell bar and restaurant at Hilton’s Trafalgar Hotel, which won Time Out Bar of the Year in 2002.
Henry set up another legendary bar, The Lonsdale in Notting Hill, in 2002, which received numerous awards. He is the only venue manager to have ever won the Time Out Bar of the Year award for two consecutive years, securing it for the Lonsdale in 2003. Other awards included Best New Bar in the Class Magazine awards in 2003 and Flavour magazine awards in 2004 followed by Best Bar Manager UK in both the Class and Flavour awards in 2005.
In 2004, Henry and Dré formed the Worldwide Cocktail Club, specialising in bartender training and education as well as on-trade strategies for drinks brands. They were responsible for bar projects such as Ronnie Scott’s, Bungalow 8 and All Star Lanes and worked on strategies for Don Julio, Wyborowa, Beefeater and Ocean Spray Cranberry.
In 2005, the pair published a book, Margarita Rocks, featuring 70 bespoke recipes as well as information on the history of tequila and its production.
With Dré, Huw Gott and Will Beckett, Henry set up Green & Red Bar and Cantina in Shoreditch in 2005, which immediately became a destination for lovers of Mexican food and tequila.
Henry joined forces with two other leading figures in the bartending community, Nick Strangeway and Cairbry Hill, to form Strange Hill in 2009 to provide food and beverage consultancy to drinks brands and bars. Projects have included working on The Booking Office bar at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and Mark’s Bar at Hix in Soho as well as supporting Wahaca restaurants with developing their drinks offering, especially tequila.
Henry and Dré worked with Pernod Ricard to develop Olmeca Altos, a smooth, flavoursome premium tequila, which was introduced in 2009 to attract more people into the category. It has won many awards including gold and silver medals at the 2012 San Francisco world spirit competition, an award in the 2011 Ultimate Cocktail Challenge, a gold medal for best long drink in the 2012 Drinks International competition and best overall drink in the 2012 Drinks International competition.
On the back of this, Henry and Dré launched the Tahona Society in 2009 to recognise and celebrate the art of tequila production, developing it into a global network of passionate bartenders with more than 1,300 members today. On Facebook, the Society paid tribute to their co-founder: “He will always be the inspiration for what is a true gentlemen, a real friend and a humble soul. We will continue to spread your passion for tequila around the world and you will always be remembered as El Jefe!”