Revived cocktail legend with a pocketful of anecdotes
There are some people who believe there’s only one American Bar in London. You know, the one with the cocktail book and the little museum, at The Savoy. So by all means start to tell such people about this place, but then think better of it and walk away whistling. For while the Savoy bar is lovely and makes excellent drinks, this American Bar is squirrelled away on a little mews in St James’s and feels like a secret little part of London. It’s recently been refurbished, the counter given a handsome marble top and brass frame and extended, green velvet sofas added, and its collection of memorabilia (a flurry of club ties, model aircraft, baseball caps, signed photographs of famous visitors, as well as famous events, which rivalled the late, lamented Windsor Castle in Marylebone) edited down a little. American Bars were christened in the 1920s to appeal to transatlantic visitors hopping off ocean liners in search of a proper cocktail. In that sense, most bars in London are now American Bars. But this one at the Stafford Hotel has some of the best stories.
Despite being an American Bar, there’s always been a Frenchman in charge. The first was Louis Burdet, a former high-ranking French Resistance leader who helped liberate Marseille. The current one, Benoit Provost, is only the third since the bar opened in the 1930s – he came to London for a year to improve his English and ended up staying for a quarter of a century. Memorable guests on the other side of the counter include Prince Harry, who brought David Beckham along, and Paul Newman, who just ordered a beer (this is also the only bar with a signed photo of Bill Nighy, as verified by the actor himself). Yes, Benoit’s English has improved, but more importantly the cocktail list has been refined. The 12 drinks are inspired by the history and characters of St James’s, including Ian Fleming (The Moonraker, gin with rhubarb liqueur, elderflower cordial and Champagne), the Queen Mother (The QM, which mixes gin with her favourite Dubonnet, as well as pear, Benedictine and lemon juice) and Sherlock Holmes (The Moriarty, a fiendishly potent mix of tequila, mezcal, citrus and agave). But first-time visitors should order the gin-sour-style White Mouse (saffron gin with fizz, lemon juice, rosemary syrup and egg white) and toast the bust of the incredible woman who inspired it, which sits on the left-hand side of the bar: Nancy Wake, an American Bar regular and a resistance fighter who parachuted into France, rang rings around the Gestapo, and who in her 80s returned to The Stafford and lived here for two years.
Ben Tish, who founded and ran the smoking Salt Yard group, has taken over the hotel’s restaurant, Game Bird, and brought a whole larder of flavours to the American Bar – go large with plates such as chicken Milanese or charcoal-grilled ribeye, or snack on tender skewers of chorizo and piquillo pepper, pea croquettes, pork pinchos and Chiltern Firehouse-style crab doughnuts.
Certainly not a museum piece – for a quiet central-London drink, this is splendid, with a rare outside terrace in the mews for long summer drinks.
Address: The Stafford, 16-18 St James’s Place, London SW1A 1NJ
Telephone: +44 20 7493 0111