It would be rather easy, but also trite, to dismiss the Connaught Bar, at the eponymous Mayfair grand hotel, as ‘too fashionable to be elegant’. Yes, for over a decade it has been over-hyped to an extent that suggests monstrous PR bills, featuring heavily in aspirational glossies. Yes, it has made the “World’s 50 Best Bars” list since 2010, finally reaching top spot in 2020, and though we understand why such compilations will inevitably exist, they still have a whiff of vulgarity. And yes, it is one of the most expensive bars in London and, therefore, the world – when we know perfectly well there are viciously diminishing returns to quality once a cocktail surpasses the £ 16 mark.
All this is true and yet we cannot with a clear conscience fail to include it in our pantheon of London gin joints that hew to the classic style we advocate and patronise. To begin with, to reach the bar one walks through what is still one of the best-maintained Edwardian grand hotel interiors in the Metrop. The service is impeccable and the bar staff take their work extremely seriously. One example: they have a ‘martini trolley’. So, if you order, say, a Sazerac, they will make that at the bar and bring it over. But if you want them to make a martini at your table, they will wheel over a rather special trolley and mix it on the spot. Gimmicky, I hear you sniff from behind a firmly lodged monocle? If only more places indulged in such ‘gimmicks’, we say.
The decor, like perhaps the very spirit of the Connaught Bar, is rather a mix. Declaredly a mix of Art Deco and Irish Cubism (?), it features both refined period elements and some incongruent modernist touches. Presumably they are meant to signal to the luxe crowd that this is, in fact, a fashionable, ‘buzzy’ place. Then again, the bar snacks are so good they put us in a reverential mood. Yes, that good.
Like essentially all very high-end cocktail bars, the Connaught does a rather self-important line of inventive, experimental cocktails. We, of course, will continue to steadfastly ignore these and order the reliably excellent renditions of the classics. Indeed, if you like martinis, splurge on the trolley. We had a vesper there, once, which nearly cut our legs from under us, both in terms of quality and potency. Readers will be gratified to read that we rallied the troops and placed further orders.
The Connaught Bar is more suitable for a tête-à-tête, when the stakes are sufficiently high, than group festivities. Take the memsahib (or indeed the husband-sahib) for your anniversary. Or meet someone who’s headhunting you, there (they will, after all, be picking up to bill). There are worse reasons to sally forth into deepest Mayfair than to have a drink or two here…
The Connaught Bar at the Connaught Hotel
Carlos Place, Mayfair, W1K 2AL
Tel: 020 7314 3419