One of London’s six venerable “grandes dames” hotels, The Savoy has been at the vanguard of innovation since it opened in 1889: it was the first hotel to have electric lighting, for instance, and the first to install electric lifts. These days, however, it’s turned its creativity to inventing cocktails that are shaking and stirring the judges at industry awards.
The Beaufort Bar, a recent winner of Tales of Cocktails Best International Hotel Bar award, is a sultry, sexy temptress that has probably seen more liaisons dangereuses than it can shake a cocktail stick at. Lavishly decked out in dramatic black and gold, it’s an art deco gem with alcoves that are, apparently, gilded in £40,000-worth of gold leaf.
The bar itself sits on top of the hotel’s old cabaret stage, which is apposite given that head bartender Kyle Wilkinson and his team have turned mixology into performance art. Each cocktail is created with a magician’s flourish and sleight of hand. A dash of this, a drop of that, the unmistakable sound of a cocktail being shaken, and voilà, out comes another masterpiece, often presented in vintage glassware, sometimes emerging from dry-ice smoke, sprinkled with gold, or served with chocolates, or a rose.
Most recently, these dazzling displays have taken a step closer to pure theatre thanks to the Beaufort Bar’s new themed tunnel book cocktail menu. Devised by Wilkinson and bar manager Anna Sebastian, the 20-drink list is presented as an intoxicating and hugely entertaining storybook that reveals some fascinating anecdotes about the hotel and some of its star guests.
“Each cocktail gives a tantalising insight into the history of The Savoy,” says Wilkinson. “Under the Stars, for instance, recalls the night Fred Astaire danced on the rooftop with his sister, while Garden of Memories takes people back to one of the most extravagant parties held here, when the courtyard was flooded and guests dined in a gondola.”
I’m tempted by both, but opt instead for The Impressionist. Dedicated to Monet – who was a regular guest – and his love of London fog, its ingredients are listed as Grey Goose vodka, raspberry, cherry, violet, Ruinart Rose champagne and… fog. What arrives is a gorgeous ruby concoction that emerges from a cloud of rose-scented dry ice “fog” that accompanies it. It’s a finely nuanced affair, with layers of delicate sweetness and a nice, floral finish.
Next up, I choose 10:10:10, which commemorates the date The Savoy re-opened after its £220m nip and tuck. It’s another Grey Goose-based cocktail, this time with Cointreau, pineapple, chocolate and Louis Roederer champagne that somehow manages to be so much better than the sum of its already fine parts. It scores a perfect 10 for me – and much as I’d love another, I stop while I can still focus to flick through the rest of the beautifully illustrated, limited edition book.
There are drinks here dedicated to Amy Johnson, who celebrated her solo flight from England to Australia at The Savoy; to actor Richard Harris, who lived there, to Tom Jones, and even to Kaspar the Cat, the hotel’s mascot and the 14th guest for dinner parties of 13. It’s tremendous fun and I’m almost tempted to pay the £50 it costs to take it home. Almost, but not quite. Had I given in to temptation and gone for Johnson’s Gypsy Moth, which looked very, very enticing, it would have been another story – perhaps one that might have made it into The Savoy’s next round of unforgettable narratives.
The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, Strand, London WC2R 0EU