When The Connaught re-opened in december 2007 after a year-long restauration of the entire hotel, the bar immediately set a new standard for hotelbars. It combined the old style of the hotels with the new style of mixology. The cost for this “contemporary interpretation” totalled a nice £ 70 million and the result is impressive, to say the least. While re-design of the hotel was done by Guy Oliver, the bar of The Connaught was handed over into the capable hands of David Collins, who you might remember from Artesian Bar.
The area in which The Connaught lies, is one of grandeur and style, Mayfair, with the American Ambassy trying to make it all ugly again. The most expensive shoppingarea in all of London is just a few blocks away on New Bond Street, so you may expect a clientele of a certain level. The small square in front of the hotel is most elegantly re-designed as well, giving a good indication of what you may find on the inside that lies behind the wonderful facade. The initial name of the hotel was The Coburg, but in 1917 it was renamed the “Connaught”, after the 3rd son of Queen Victoria: Prince Arther, Duke of Connaught.
The main hall of the hotel is quite small, giving a surprisingly warm and familiar feeling: here the entrances of The Coburg Bar, The Connaught Bar, Espelette and the famous restaurant of Hélène Darroze all come together. And of course the entrance to the hotel itself. In between you can find the very helpful and skilled staff of The Connaught, navigating everyone to his or her destination within the hotel, all with the attitude to make them feel at home. Which already starts outside, with the doormen wishing you welcome.
The eye catcher in the main entrance are the stairs: large and majestic, leading all the way to the top floor of the main building. I was told that Ralph Lauren is a big fan of The Connaught and he even rebuilt the stairs in his flagship-store in New York. My destination for this evening is of course The Connaught Bar. As for almost every bar in London, it is highly recommended to reserve ahead, to avoid disappointment and missing out on one great evening.
At The Connaught Bar you’re welcomed by a most friendly hostess, guiding you to your table to make sure you are well installed and hands you the drinksmenu. This is divided in several sections and are almost invariably own creations, a fair deal firmly based on the classics. Their Signature-section boasts some lavish creations by the barteam, which includes Agostino Perrone who was named International Bartender of the Year in 2010. He received this award during The Tales Of The Cocktail-event in New Orleans and The Connaught Bar picked up the award for World’s Best Hotelbar that same night. The night I visited The Connaught Bar, we were served by Rusty Cerven, a young rising star in the world of bartending.
The drinksmenu will keep you busy for a while and you may want to start with a glass of champagne. Feel free to call for help, the hostess will guide you through the different flavours with a steady hand. One recommendation I’d like to make is their house-special the Dry Martini, which is prepared exactly how you’d like to drink it at your table, with your choice of vodka or gin, vermouth, bitters, garnish and way of course the choice between shaken or stirred. More house specials we tried were the Bloody Mary with a spectacular ‘air’ of celery on top and the Mulata Daisy, one of Agostino’s award-winning creations. I try to stay away from saying “drink this cocktail” because as it fits my taste, it might not be your choice in the end.
Every cocktail you order is served in a beautiful, handcrafted and hand-painted glass, which are also for sale in the bar. Especially the coupettes are great. Another nice feature is the small card that you receive upon leaving, of every cocktail you drank that evening, to re-create at home.
Should you feel a bit hungry after a long day of shopping in London, or just need a quick bite to stay focused when tasting all these wonderful cocktails, there’s always the possibility to order from their tapas-menu. All items on the menu are developed by Hélène Darroze, so Michelin-star level food. I have to admit that I could not resist the urge to have some nibblers so I tried the Grilled Scallops and the Lobster Spring Rolls. They were both just fabulous and I can imagine the same goes for the rest of the menu.
Having a drink at The Connaught Bar is not something you should do “in-between” – take your time and indulge yourself in this oasis of hospitality, where a highly skilled team works very hard to make sure you have an amazing experience.
The Connaught Bar – Carlos Place, Mayfair, London - +44 (0)20 7314 3419