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A toast to ‘Champagne Danny’

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Hotel fixture: Danny Gilbert worked at the Elbow Beach Hotel for 56 years (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

For 56 years Danny Gilbert was a fixture at the Elbow Beach Hotel. The hotel ambassador knew most of the repeat guests by name, and often had a complimentary cocktail waiting for them.

“I’m known for my rum swizzles,” said Mr Gilbert, who turned 77 yesterday. “They are tasty, and often people would come back and say ‘Danny, can I have another one?’ Of course, I can’t tell you what’s in my cocktails. (Laughter) That’s my secret.”

Then in January, Mr Gilbert lost his job when hotel management changed hands.

He has not given up on the place yet. He is hoping it is just a temporary setback, and that he will be rehired by the new management.

“If I can’t get a job there, I’ll look somewhere else,” he said. He scoffs at the idea of retirement.

“Why would I do that?” he said. “Since I lost my job I’ve been going crazy with nothing to do. My whole life is in the hotel industry. What do I need to relax for? I’m relaxed already.”

He grew up on Sound View Road in Sandys, the second-youngest of six children. His mother, Ruby, was a homemaker and his father, Clarence “CG” Gilbert, was a mason. Danny Gilbert was the only one in the family who went into the hotel industry.

“I left home at an early age,” he said. “The Queen of Bermuda was in town. I went there with a couple of other boys. The purser asked if we had passports. We didn’t. I was only about 16.

“He said the ship is leaving tomorrow at 5pm and you need a passport. We got our passports, and the next afternoon had to jump on in a hurry because the ship was leaving.”

Mr Gilbert said he got on the ship a boy and came back to Bermuda a man.

“I was working in the boiler room,” he said. “Conditions were rough, and it was boiling hot down there. We had to control the heat on the ship. My friends and I were just young boys, working with adults.”

He only did a short stint on the ship, travelling to New York, Cuba and the Bahamas. When he returned to Bermuda, he went into the hotel industry, working as a bus boy at the Coral Beach Club.

He started at the Elbow Beach Hotel in 1961 and has seen numerous changes over the years. He loved the bustle of the hotel during the College Weeks years in the 1960s and 1970s.

“I used to manage the nightclub that is downstairs with ‘Chilly’ Simmons,” he said. “He has passed away now. In those days we had entertainment all different nights, steel pans, limbo dancers. Every night there was something to do. Now there is very little entertainment in Bermuda.”

He remembers how the boys and girls would all gather in the evenings in the hotel lobby, dressed to the nines.

“They’d been eying each other up,” he said. “It was all about boy meets girls.”

Some of the college students at the hotel were from America’s wealthiest families.

“Some of the girls came with chaperons, and some didn’t,” said Mr Gilbert. “In the evening the girls with chaperons would get dressed up, then get into bed and pull the covers up to their chins. Then there would come a knock on the door. A voice would say: ‘Is everything all right in there?’ The chaperon would peek in and see the girl in bed. Then, when she left, the girl would jump out of bed, and sneak out. She might spend the entire night out on the beach and come back in at 5am.”

He said nightclubs like The 40 Thieves Club and The Ace of Clubs were also popular hangouts.

“The children would go there, and when people in the hotels like bartenders knocked off they’d go there too,” said Mr Gilbert. “Everyone had a great time.”

These days, he thinks Bermuda has grown too quiet.

“There’s not much to do any more,” he said. “There’s no entertainment like there used to be.”

As a young man he gained the nickname “Champagne Danny” because he loved to drink champagne in his off hours.

“It was only the best for me,” he laughed. “I liked to drink Veuve Clicquot and Dom Perignon. I always bought the ladies a bottle of champagne. Now that I’m older my tastes are a lot more modest.”

In his spare time, he likes to go to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I went down there with some friends 35 years ago, and have been going ever since,” he said. “Brazil is my second home. I leave the airport in Rio and people are calling out to me, ‘hey Daniel, you’re back!’.

Ten years ago, he had a health crisis while in Rio and needed a heart bypass.

“I went to hospital there,” he said. “Then I came back to Bermuda and I was sent to Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts. They patched me up. I still have the scars from that operation.”

But today his health is good; he is just a little bored.

“I don’t think they should be able to make you retire,” he said. “If you’re healthy, you should be able to keep on working.”

Lifestyle profiles senior citizens in the community every Tuesday. To suggest an outstanding senior contact Jessie Moniz Hardy: 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com. Have on hand the senior’s full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

Hotel fixture: Danny Gilbert worked at the Elbow Beach Hotel for 56 years