Everything old is new again—or at least it is within the world of London cocktails.
After all, The British Library has just re-issued The Cocktail Book: a fantastic little tome and drinker’s companion that might otherwise have languished in obscurity. First published in 1900 as The Gentleman’s Cocktail Book, and in print during the heady days of Prohibition, its revival is a gift to history-minded cocktail connoisseurs.
© The Cocktail Book
The experience of flipping through The Cocktail Book—the turn-of-the-century parlance of the original recipes unchanged—is akin to discovering a sort of drinker’s time capsule. Within its pages are all manner of archaic ingredients (its glossary, one of the few concessions made to modern readers, helps elucidate inclusions ranging from Jamaica ginger and calisaya to wormwood), as well as old-fashioned preparation instructions (which largely eschew precision and favour “wine glasses” as a form of measurement).
But if the recipes aren’t all immediately accessible, the thrill in discovering a passport to a previous era’s cocktail culture is. For curious home bartenders, it’s well worth securing a copy and embarking on some experiments.
© The Cocktail Book
It’s also worth supplementing your at-home mixology with a booze-led tour of London’s historic bars. Take inspiration from The Cocktail Book and plan an indulgent, unabashedly old-fashioned traipse around town. From drinking dens immortalised in cocktail lore to more modern haunts that perfectly capture the evocative atmosphere of days gone by, quaffing a cocktail like your great-grandparents is once again, wonderfully, de rigueur.
The American Bar at the Savoy
© Fairmont Hotels & Resorts
Few London bars are as storied as The American Bar at the Savoy. Some of history’s great bartenders have worked behind the stick at this endlessly glamorous cocktail destination, including Harry Craddock and Ada Coleman. The former also penned The Savoy Cocktail Book, another historic drinking guide that’s still cherished by modern bartenders. Even the bar’s name alludes to the early 20th century, when so-called “American Bars”—the first to popularise the use of ice in cocktail making—swept across London. Order from the menu of now-iconic serves that were created on-site, like the White Lady or the Hanky Panky. And pop into the exquisite Beaufort Bar—yes, the Savoy has two world-class cocktail bars—for a nightcap.
© Dukes Hotel
Very little has changed in Mayfair’s Dukes Bar since the days when Ian Fleming hung around. Gilt-framed oil paintings are affixed to the walls; the floor is padded in luxuriant, thick carpet; the drinks are made tableside by highly trained bar staff who present their frost-robed bottles of gin for your delectation before crafting justly renowned Martinis. You don’t have to be a secret agent to savour a Vesper—supposedly Fleming’s invention—here, but adhering to the formal dress code doesn’t hurt.
The Connaught Bar
© The Connaught Hotel
Named the World’s Best Bar last year, The Connaught Bar in the Connaught Hotel is a place of turn-of-the-century splendour, as seen through a modern lens. The late designer David Collins is behind its interior, which the hotel describes as “a 21st century interpretation of the Edwardian original.” Just as its looks convey an overlapping of eras, its cocktails pay tribute to the classics with very subtle nods towards modernity. Order from its roving Martini trolley, or sip from its menu of “Masterpieces”—classic cocktails that have been creatively, but subtly, tweaked for contemporary palates.
© The Gibson
London’s best historic bars don’t always need accompanying age statements. Some manage to evoke the bygone days of drinking despite their recent origins. The Gibson is one such venue. As it name might suggest, the signature serve here is the bracing Gibson, a savoury take on the Martini that’s crowned with a puckish little pickled onion. If there’s a bar that pays close attention to turn-of-the-century optics, it’s this one (credit goes to owner Marian Beke, formerly of Nightjar). Here, the Gibson is served in a Martini glass wrought of ice-kissed steel; Gibson girls frolic across the menu and adorn the exterior sign.
Words by Claire Bullen