London’s best hotel bars can be intimidating places. A wasted youth of chatting about real ale (before it was fashionable) at town hall festivals didn’t prepare me for the pomp of a decent hotel bar. Years ago, I just about got through the door of the American Bar at The Savoy dressed in my best suit. I ordered a simple martini, just to be on the safe side. Vodka or gin? Olive or twist? I guessed at both, kept my head down and tried not to eat all the nuts and olives. In contrast, everyone around me looked as comfortable as Bogie and Dylan, a couple of the many famous former patrons whose photos adorn the walls.
But times change and I'm now a little too comfortable in hotel bars. They are, after all, one of the best places to catch up with friends – not least because, unlike many places in this great city, you can actually hear what the other person is saying. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think when someone goes to the effort of utilising their lungs, larynx, tongue and lips to form sounds in an effort to communicate with you, the least one can do is choose somewhere one can hear them. Noisy places are not for me; they are for people who communicate best through a combinations of touch and gyration, against a backdrop of techno and illicit substances.
Long before clubs were even dreamed up, London’s first grand hotel, The Langham, opened in 1865. Now, it’s home to Alex Kratena’s Artesian, crowned the World’s Best Bar three years running. Then The Savoy opened to understandable fanfare in 1889. The aforementioned American Bar attracted the great US bartender Harry Craddock during the prohibition era. Craddock wrote The Savoy Cocktail Book and secured the hotel's place in the annals of cocktail history.
Next up, in 1897, was The Coburg hotel, which was renamed The Connaught, as it was far less Germanic-sounding. The current bar was designed by the late, great David Collins and is one of the most beautiful in town. Waiters also entertain you while you wait, making cocktails from a trolley at your table. A relative latecomer, The Ritz opened in 1906. Check out its striking art deco-style Rivoli Bar, which transports you straight to Gatsby-era glamour.
Until the end of the month the Rivoli will be serving the Grand Marnier Cuvée du Centenaire and Tea. They could have come up with a catchier name, but the cocktail (of sorts) is good enough to forgive them their lack of imagination.
The base is Grand Marnier Cuvée du Centenaire, a special edition Grand Marnier, first launched in 1927 to commemorate its one hundredth birthday.
This version of Grand Marnier uses just Petite and Grande Champagne cognacs for the blend, adding more spice and dried fruit flavours to the familiar bitter orange. The drink is served with an Oolong tea ice ball, which you pour the Grand Marnier over, effectively mixing your own cocktail.
We are blessed in the lottery of life to live with such distinguished hotel bars on our doorstep. Whether you’re after the formality and luxury of the Rivoli or prefer the more experimental Artesian, our capital has got it covered.
But if the conversation is drying up quicker than drinks, then I guess there’s always the Ministry Of Sound.
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