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.
Opened in 1927 by King George V, The May Fair today presents a very contemporary take on the classic London five-star hotel. Complete with Baccarat chandeliers and furnishings by Fendi it has a more modern feel than most of London’s historic hotels, and this definitely carries over to the hotels main bar, The May Fair Bar.
Featuring a large semi-circular bar plus a number of tables and booths, The May Fair Bar is one of the largest hotel bars I have encountered in London. Featuring a lot of glass and dark colours, the look is sleek and modern, with up-tempo lounge music and a generally under-35s crowd rounding off the young feel of the space.
Despite the modern edge, and my worst fears, the drinks menu incorporates a surprising number of classic drinks including relatively rare appearances like the Sazerac and Old Fashioned, though their Manhattan is made with Canadian Club which is disappointing. Alongside these were the usual “Martinis”, plus the odd interesting sounding modern drink.
The menu also offers several cocktail “flights”, a rarely seen option that lets you sample several different cocktails all along a similar theme in one go, in this case with food parings to match. Sadly this option is, in my opinion, somewhat wasted on a Martini flight that only features one gin Martini, a Champagne cocktail flight, and a flight of Johnnie Walker whiskies from Black, thru Gold, to Blue.
After a bit of wait to be served, I decided to start off with a French 75, a drink I haven’t risked at a hotel bar since my visit to the Ritz in Paris. The drink was shaken for a dangerously short time, but turned out well with a gentle fruitiness and a nice balance, if a touch weak on the gin. It was garnished very nicely with a long strip of lemon zest that was freshly peeled over the glass, and overall was one of the better French 75s I have enjoyed.
It was disappointing to note that after receiving my drink I had to specifically ask to set up a tab, and was required to leave a card behind the bar to do so. This is the first time I can recall having to do this in any of the cocktail bars I have been to either in London or indeed anywhere else. It may seem a little picky, but to me hotel bars should be about elegance of service, and the suggestion of distrust requiring a card creates doesn’t really lend itself to that.
Unfortunately the disappointment doesn’t stop there. After finishing my first drink I was looking forward to trying another, however I must have waited a good 10 or more minutes in front of an empty glass waiting for a bartenders attention before I got any service. Several passed by me a few times during this wait, but not one even made eye contact. I certainly didn’t shout or scream for attention, but again going back to expectations at a quality bar, a guest really shouldn’t have to.
When a bartender did finally ask if I wanted anything else I had, frankly, had enough of waiting, so retrieved my card and settled my bill. I really wanted to like The May Fair, as it seemed to be a nice modern space with a slightly more relaxed atmosphere than some hotel bars, but still with decent drinks. At £9 to £12 per cocktail, it is even on the more reasonable side of Mayfair cocktail spots.
However the inattentive service left a bad taste in my mouth that even a great French 75 couldn’t remove, and sadly The May Fair Bar isn’t a place I will be rushing back to any time soon.
The Mayfair Bar is located at 70 Stratton Street, Mayfair. Open 8am to 1am Tuesday – Saturday. 8am to 11pm Sunday – Monday.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7915 3894
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