London is famous for its grand hotels, and names like Claridge’s and The Ritz are synonymous with five-star luxury and glamour. Almost as famous are the bars these hotels house, honey pots to the rich and famous and many, like the Savoy, with a historic link to the world of cocktails. In a continuing series, I explore the hotel bars of London and see if their reputations are deserved.
Sat on one of London’s most prestigious streets, Park Lane, opposite the green expanse of Hyde Park, The Dorchester has been considered among the great hotels of the world since it opened in 1931. Frequented by the like of Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich and T S Eliot, it even acted as Dwight D Eisenhower’s headquarters when he moved to Europe to begin planning for D-Day.
The Dorchester Bar also boasts a lofty reputation with Harry Craddock, of Savoy Cocktail Book fame, acting as head bartender from 1938 until his retirement in 1947. It is said that when the bar was rebuilt in 1938 sealed phials containing a Martini, Manhattan and White Lady mixed by Craddock were set in to the wall, and in 1979 when the bar was rebuilt again they were discovered in excellent condition.
Today the bar features a modern design fitted in 2006, with an open layout of tables and a reasonably large bar that spans most of the length of the room. It has to be said The Dorchester Bar is one of the most comfortable I have ever sat at, with soft leather stools set at a perfect height to the bar and comfortable foot and hand rails making it all too easy to settle in at the bar and not want to leave.
Their menu concentrates on classics, with drinks like the Brooklyn, Mary Pickford and Leap Year, as well as an entire page dedicated to the Gin and Tonic and half a page for vermouths. The bar even has their own gin, Dorchester Old Tom, an Old Tom gin created specially for the hotel based on a traditional eighteenth century recipe. This gets regular use throughout the menu and alone is worth a visit to The Dorchester.
I started with a Martinez, crafted with the house Old Tom plus Punt e Mes, Maraschino and a recreation of the classic Bokers bitters. Antica Formula is my usual choice in a Martinez but the Punt e Mes blends perfectly with the sweetness of the Old Tom and the overall drink is nothing short of fantastic. Definitely one of my favourites on their menu.
Next up I sampled the Dorchester Old Tom in a Gin and Tonic, which was served with a small tray of custom-made bitters (more on these next week) which you can add to your drink as you chose. I added a few dashes of the lavender bitters and enjoyed a very fine G&T, the house Old Tom making it a sweeter than normal G&T but very flavoursome.
Moving on I went for the East India, comprising of Cognac, pineapple syrup, curaçao and Bokers it was very tasty, with a fruitiness that ties in well with the Cognac and a nice aromatic finish. well executed Brooklyn that uses genuine (though sadly the modern, weaker, recipe) Amer Picon to good effect. The only odd surprise was that they didn’t have green Chartreuse when I ordered a Last Word – though the result, made with yellow Chartreuse instead, was still enjoyable.
The Dorchester isn’t just a bar to visit for classic drinks though. On a visit with Tomek from Alkoteka our bartender Stefano Cossio introduced us to an interesting drink he was experimenting with using a large bittered ice ball made with one of those crazy ice balling machines. I need to go back again to order another and find out what he ended up calling the concoction.
The Dorchester comes in about normal for hotel bars with an average cocktail price of around £14. Given the great drinks, the keen and attentive service, and the really delicious house Old Tom I really don’t mind paying that. I’ve visited the bar several times since my first visit and each one has been thoroughly enjoyable. Highly recommended.
The Dorchester Bar is located at 53 Park Lane, Mayfair. Open 12pm to 1am Monday – Saturday. 12pm to 12am Sundays.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7629 8888
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