History, Flair, technique, tradition
These adjectives not only describe the city of London, but also the cocktails that have shaped one of the best cocktail scenes on Planet Earth.
London is one of my most favorite places in the whole world. Admittedly, I haven't been to the "whole world" to really justify this claim, but you can't deny the history, people, museums, traditions, and of course the cocktails are all pretty fantastic.
We spent a week in London over Christmas (a travel bucket list item) and visited a few of the most famous and highly-regarded cocktail bars in the iconic city. It was our third time in the city and since we had gotten the major sight-seeing out of the way we had more time to relax and seek out the perfect London cocktail. With a little research a few names bubbled to the surface that made our must-do list: American Bar at The Savoy, Connaught Bar, and DUKES Bar.
Coincidentally, these are hotel bars. We've been drawn to high-end hotel bars recently - the ambiance (bonus if there's a piano player), decor, intrigue, history, and people-watching opportunities can really turn one cocktail into an escapist experience.
If you are a cocktail enthusiast and enjoy annually perusing The World's 50 Best Bars list, then you probably already know that American Bar is 2017's Numero Uno. This 125-year old bar's art deco space is very respected and has been highly influential in the cocktail world (hello, famous Savoy Cocktail Book). The history of legendary bartenders and movie stars unfolds on it's walls. Many classic cocktails have been birthed here, but do try a cocktail off of their latest innovative menu.
I had the Sapphire Jubilee, named in honor of Her Majesty's 65 years on the throne. Ingredients are: Star of Bombay gin, Oleo Saccharum, Violet Liqueur, Pineau de Charentes, and Champagne.
To make expats feel more at home the hotel entrance has drivers use the right side of the road. And a place that caters to Americans wouldn’t be complete without a patron wearing a Krusty the Clown shirt at the bar.
If you are that same cocktail enthusiast perusing 2017's World's 50 Best Bars you may also know that the Connaught Bar comes in at number four on the list for the second year in a row. It is certainly a posh spot, but the friendly staff and bartenders helped us settle in to what immediately felt like our second home.
Go for the Martini trolley. Actually, it will come to you. This beautiful cart holds all the items necessary for your bartender to customize a Martini for you and you alone, with their bespoke bitters.
A highlight was meeting a lovely New Zealander here. We became fast friends and met up a few days later for a night on the town which began at . . . (queue James Bond music).
If you're a James Bond fan and you like exceptional and strong Martinis, then go no further than DUKES. Known as Bond author Sir Ian Fleming's watering hole, DUKES is very intimate, classy, and yet informal - a gentleman's club feel.
World-famous bartender Alessandro Palazzi is bar manager. He's a charming man who loves hip-hop and making Martinis for eager guests.
And these are perhaps the coldest, smoothest, booziest Martinis you will ever have. Again, the trolley comes to you to prepare your Martini right before your eyes. Frozen gin, a splash of vermouth which gets discarded on the carpet after kissing your glass, and beautiful lemons from the Amalfi coast create a delicious and heavenly work of art. If you declare yourself a Martini connoisseur do not walk - run, and take me with you. And did I mention the Martinis are strong? So strong in fact, there is a two Martini limit per person; The Mr. can vouch for the purpose of this policy (ask me how that went and I'll be happy to tell you).
This stop wasn't on the official itinerary (nor were dinner and drinks at The Wolseley that preceded it - yet another story for another time). Unfortunately the details of this final stop are not as clear due in part to the testing of the two Martini limit at DUKES and the fact that it was almost tomorrow.
Even as we approached closing time the bartenders were still on point. The atmosphere was something I have never experienced and perhaps never will again. There's posh and then there's Posh with a capital "P."
I had the Ritz 110 - a cocktail with Gold Infused Absolut Elyx Vodka, Grand Marnier and Peach Liquor, and finished with Champagne.
We walked past Buckingham Palace and back to our flat at 1:30 a.m., wondering, "Did that really just happen?"
Know Before You Go
It's not cheap. This is London. These are expensive hotels. These are experienced bartenders using quality ingredients. Expect to pay an average of $25-28 per cocktail. But honestly you will get your money's worth in service, flair, presentation, and taste. No one expects you to have multiple drinks. One and done is perfectly acceptable, so take your time, peruse the extensive menus (seriously, they're books), chat with fellow cocktail-lovers, and just watch the "dance" at each bar.
Table service is a thing. We found that most bars in London had table service. You enter, you are seated by a server who takes your drink order, your drink is prepared at the bar, and is brought back to your table. We found this a bit odd at first because normally we enjoy sitting AT the bar, watching drinks being made, and chatting with the bartenders. However, table service is efficient for both the bartender and patron, especially during the busy holiday season. It also makes the legendary trolley service at DUKES and Connaught Bar a unique and delightful treat.
Let us know if you're headed to London and you'd like any suggestions on sights to see or bars to imbibe at! Also I may try to fit in your suitcase, but the first round is on me.