City A.M.’s cocktail expert @Philip_Salter
OVER the years, the relationship between politics and the alcohol industry has been shaky at best. Taxation and minimum prices, monopolies and regulations, as well as deadly prohibitions have blighted life and liberty. But politicians haven’t been afraid to say one thing and do another: at the last count, £1.33m is being spent annually in the nine bars at the House of Commons.
British taxpayers generously subsidise the bars of both Houses, but us “commoners” will struggle to get into either House without the right connections or a lobbying pass. Yet there is another option: County Hall. This grand building, which faces Westminster Palace from the South Bank, used to be the place for London’s local politicians to get drunk on power (and more besides). County Hall was formally home to London County Council and later the Greater London Council (GLC), from which Ken Livingstone famously pitched his battle against Margaret Thatcher.
Thatcher ultimately shut it down, and, ironically given it was once the focal point of British socialism, it now houses, among other things, a five star Marriott Hotel. Red Ken can’t be too happy about that, although his fellow “worker of the world”, Ed Miliband, has been spotted drinking at the Marriott’s Gillray’s Bar – clearly the place to escape the hoi polloi.
The drinking habits and hypocrisy of Britain’s leaders hasn’t escaped the notice of the press. Gillray’s is named after James Gillray, the political caricaturist and satirist, whose works adorn the walls of the attached steakhouse. Gillray took down the politicians of his day, including Prime Minister William Pitt the younger, who he depicted as an emaciated, hyperactive school boy. In fact, the first mention made in print of the word cocktail comes from the Morning Post and Gazetteer in London, on 20 March 1798, in reference to Pitt’s drinking debts, which were printed to embarrass him.
Besides the Gillray prints and an August view of the Palace of Westminster that is “worthy” of a prime-minister-in-waiting, the swanky bar has an enviable collection of gins and plenty of cocktails you won’t have tried before. You may want to start with The GLC, a cocktail that is both refreshing and spicy. Perhaps the next chancellor should drink it during the budget speech (the only time politicians are allowed to drink in the chamber); although one suspects that cocktails, like champagne, are strictly off limits in the these austere times – at least in public.
■ 50ml plum infused chase vodka
■ 2 cubes sugar
■ 25ml lemon juice
■ 5ml balsamic vinegar
■ A dash of Bramble and Cage plum liqueur
■ Fresh ginger
● Muddle the ginger in a boston glass
● Add the rest of the ingredients
● Shake and double strain into a coupette glass
● Garnish with a plum fan