Ah, The American Bar.
Of all the bars on this quest, this bar is not only one of the most historic, but also one of the most perplexing.
The history is unparalleled. The American Bar in the Savoy Hotel has been a fixture in the cocktail world since the late 19th century.
Bartender Harry Craddock is a legend. He’s the man behind dozens of cocktails, including perhaps most famously, the dry martini which only adds to the lore of the bar.
Since I kinda-sorta began this quest in 2014, the American Bar has never been out of the top 10, and continued to climb each year, taking the title of World’s Best Bar in 2017, before being edged out in 2018 by Dandelyan.
That’s awfully high praise by anyone’s standards.
But the question becomes, is the bar really that good? Or are the industry members who make up the rating panel just paying hommage to a historic fixture within the cocktail community?
I have some thoughts on this.
Our First Trip to the American Bar London
It was about 2 and a half years ago Tate and I first visited the American Bar. We tore through London on that trip with stops at over a dozen bars including some of the most notable names in the city like Connaught, Bar Termini, and yes, Dandelyan (may it RIP).
Before we arrived at The American Bar, we went to an American Bar.
Yes, there is another bar called “American Bar” at a fancy London hotel.
And being as clueless as I was at the time, we went there, ordered overpriced drinks, and then realized we weren’t in the historic den of cocktail history at the Savoy.
We were in the kitschy bar at the Stafford with American memorabilia strewn about.
But within that 3 day sprint, we sat back, and took our time at the American Bar. We wanted to give credit where it was due, and truly soak in the experience and understand what made it so great.
Unfortunately, we never quite got there.
We had three drinks each.
And honestly? Aside from one drink that was vaguely themed around James Bond, with a bloodshot splatter across the egg white foam, I couldn’t name a single drink we had.
The vibe is (very) classy hotel bar, as you’d expect, but it’s nothing overly special – so we expected the drinks to really stand out.
American Bar London Review: Our Most Recent Trip
With all that in mind, and now being quite a bit deeper into this quest, I wanted to revisit the bar and see if my opinion had changed.
Before heading to the American Bar we decided to take the advice of many of the people we talked to along the way in London who said “skip American Bar, and go to Beaufort Bar” – which is the other bar at the Savoy.
Beaufort, as recently as 2015 was ranked as high as #27 on the world’s best list.
But after a drink at Beaufort we headed back to the American Bar where I sincerely hoped for a more memorable experience.
Did we get it?
Well, kind of.
Tate, along with our friend Dan and I had a nice spot near the entrance to the bar next to the piano where I very talented guy was performing and doubling down on the classy hotel bar vibe.
While I’d hoped to visit the bar a bit earlier in the day, since we decided to also visit Beaufort, we’d only be having one drink each.
This may have turned out for the best, because the prices at American Bar were even more staggering than I’d remembered.
American Bar at the Savoy Menu: Most Expensive Menu in the World?
Again, you don’t go to a place like this expecting things to be cheap, but when the average price of a drink comes in between 25-30 pounds and you realize that the 4 ounces of liquid sitting in front of you costs about $38? Well, that stings a bit.
Especially when you consider that many of the other top London bars are offering drinks at less than half that (and in some cases are much better) – I’m looking at you Champagne Pina Colada.
The relatively new drink menu is actually a really cool concept. 20 drinks inspired by 20 different songs, and there’s a brief story behind how the song fits the drink.
This menu also wins the award for “most expensive menu you can buy.”
As we’ve gone through this quest, it’s become a hobby to collect menus from the places we go. When they’re available to buy, we do so, and if not we try and be extra friendly with the bartenders in hopes that they’ll let us take one.
Usually the cost of menus varies from $10 on the cheap end (Door 74 in Amsterdam), to an average of $20-25 (Little Red Door in Paris), to $40 on the high end (Blacktail in NYC).
But that Blacktail one was more like a book than just a menu.
So how much does it cost to buy a copy of the Savoy Songbook? £65 or just over $80 USD.
C’mon now, I get expensive drinks when you’re using expensive ingredients, but this is just over the top.
Too bad too, because we really wanted one ha.
But I digress.
Considering it had been a pretty long day of drinking at this point I opted for the Burning Bright, a riff on a daiquri that while not really a late night drink seemed intriguing.
“Learning to Fly” by Foo Fighters was the inspiration for it.
On first sip you get heavy hits on grapefruit that seemed a little much at first, but began to grow on me.
There was a nice lingering bitterness from the Amaro that I really liked and separated it from a typically sweet daiquri.
The presentation was also beautiful.
I gave it an 8/10.
Tate’s drink was even more appealing on paper. but didn’t quite hit the same high note as my Burning Bright.
She went for the Go Go Go, which was themed around Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”.
No matter what the drink, if it has passionfruit in it, you can bet Tate will be ordering it. This stems from our first trip to Connaught years ago.
And the Go Go Go was a combination of Patron Silver, avocado, kumquat, lime, mango and passionfruit cordial, and IPA beer.
I mean, with ingredients like that, it has to be good, right?
And that’s exactly what it was, good.
It was slightly sour, bitter, and sweet all at once. The flavor lingers, but the kumquat and cordials just kind of blend together to read as citrus.
You don’t really taste the avocado or IPA, but often with cocktails it’s the sum of the parts, rather than the individual flavors that make something special.
Final Thoughts on the American Bar
Our most recent trip left us with at least a little bit of a better experience than our first one.
It will move up on my personal top bars list from its current #49 out of 50, but it won’t crack the top 25.
It’s good, and if I’d tried a few more of the drinks this go around, I might just say it’s great.
But when the drink I was really eyeing (the Lonely Street ) is £50 you start to realize that there are many other bars, even within London, that provide a more interesting atmosphere, and more interesting drinks at a fraction of the price.
With all that said, The American Bar continues to be one where we just say “huh?”
At first we thought we were the weird ones who were just missing the point (and maybe we still are), but as we’ve talked to more bartenders in our travels, the American Bar would often come up.
At which point I’d often ask “what is it about the place that makes it so great?”
And pretty much every time, the answer is always “the history”.
I’ve asked this of probably a dozen bartenders at world class establishments, and not once has anyone said “yes, it’s amazing and 100% worth the accolades!”
It’s always somewhere between the scale of it’s really good, and it’s totally overrated.
If you’re a cocktail snob or into the history even a little bit, it’s a must visit.
But compared to so many bars we’ve been to that have better atmosphere, a more memorable experience, and frankly, more delicious drinks – I just haven’t fully cracked the code of The American Bar.
Will I return to American Bar? Absolutely, I’m sure I will.
Is it first on my list of places to revisit while in London? Not even close.
For me personally, if you’re looking to feel very fancy for an evening and drink very good drinks in the process, head over to Connaught Bar – which this year came in #2 of best bars in the world, and is very deserving of the title.