The Gilmores own a popular tobacconist shop at the top of the Limestone Road, which remains in business through the Troubles until the mid-1990s. But Gilmore has plans to go places so, at the age of sixteen, he sets out with a friend for London.
His first job is packing rolls of wallpaper at a Sanderson’s factory before moving to a Lyons Corner House as a dish washer with the prospect of getting some decent dinners. He begins training as a barman at London’s La Coquille and The Olde Bell at Hurley, where a chance encounter serving a stylish couple sets the scene for the remarkable life that follows.
At the age of eighteen, Gilmore starts as a trainee barman at The American Bar in 1940 and is appointed Head Barman in 1955, a position he holds until he retires in 1976. Over his years as Head Barman, Gilmore invents numerous cocktails to mark special events and important guests, a longstanding tradition at the American Bar.
Gilmore has invented cocktails in honor of a number of royalty, politicians, and celebrities including the Prince of Wales, Prince William, Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, Prince Andrew, Sir Winston Churchill, and American Presidents Harry S. Truman and Richard Nixon. He also invents cocktails to commemorate the first walk on the moon in 1969 by Neil Armstrong, and the American and Russian link-up in space in 1975.
In addition to serving five generations of royals at private receptions and parties, Gilmore has also served Errol Flynn, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Grace Kelly, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, Noël Coward, Agatha Christie, Alice Faye, Ingrid Bergman, Julie Andrews, Laurence Olivier, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra.
Gilmore never forgets his Irish roots or family, and never loses his soft Belfast accent. Joe Gilmore dies at the age of 93 on December 18, 2015. His funeral is arranged by A. France & Son, undertakers to Admiral Nelson and near-neighbours in Lamb Conduit Street for more than 50 years. The Savoy sends their senior management and bar staff in their smart white uniforms.