On our cocktail quest I try to keep my research to a relative minimum. The more surprises there are when you visit a new spot, generally the more enjoyable the experience.
So when it came to our London boondoggle, I put together a map of the bars I wanted to go to, compared it to our hotels and the sights we wanted to see, and then just kind of went from there.
Usually, this isn’t too big of a deal.
But sometimes, it leaves you, well, unprepared.
On our second day in London we must have walked a half marathon between everywhere we went.
What started as a nice stroll through Hyde Park, meandered into the most overwhelming shopping experience of my life at Harrods, before taking us to Buckingham Palace.
At this point we were slowly approaching an appropriate drinking hour, and we knew the Connaught Hotel was in the general vicinity.
So with me wearing sneakers and a sweatshirt, and my wife wearing rubber roots for the expected rain (that never showed up), we plotted course for the Connaught Hotel – again, not knowing much of what to expect.
The Connaught Bar in London
Upon arriving, there was one thing abundantly clear to us.
We did not belong in a place like this.
This was the single fanciest place I think I’ve ever been – or at least it was certainly top 5.
Living in Portland, fancy means putting on an untucked collared shirt at dinner.
Here I felt like I needed to be in a full suit, with cufflinks, and maybe a top hat.
Walking into the bar itself, you’ll find it to be dimly lit with a beautiful touch of modern meets traditional. There’s an art deco motif to it, that feels like quite elegant without feeling old. And were it not for being woefully underdressed, the leather seating and high ceilings made us surprisingly comfortable.
Whether it made it better or worse, we were one of the only people in the bar when we showed up. Better in the sense that the type of people who would frequent this place would probably scoff at the heathens that dared to wear a hooded sweatshirt in a place where only gentleman preside. However, worse because we of the full attention we felt we had from the bar staff, who we assumed would be silently judging us.
However, now feels like the appropriate time to comment on that.
Despite the 13 miles we’d walked, the fact we probably had beads of sweat dripping from our head as we walked in, and the fact we felt more out of place than a number in the alphabet – you would have never known.
The welcoming service that we received was among that best I’ve seen anywhere.
If the bartenders had any reservations about the clueless Americans that just walked into the bar, they showed zero sign of it.
They were hospitable, knowledgeable, and never once made us feel out of place – despite the fact we very clearly were.
And that is but one of the reasons this considered one of the best bars in the world – and let’s make no mistake, it is very deserving of its accolades.
We had a nice corner table overlooking the bar, and despite already knowing what I was ordering, I perused the menu with glee.
The creativity and inventiveness of going to some of these top bars never ceases to impress.
Whether it’s adding a “saffron smoke” to their take on a vieux carre, or deciding that eucalyptus would make a good infusion with simple syrup – the toughest part about reading the menu is deciding which drink to choose, when they all look so good.
The Connaught Martini
But in this instance, my mind had been made up.
Connaught Bar is well known for their martini trolley.
Where they bring the ingredients for your martini table side, make your drink in front of you, and give you the choice of 7 different bitters like grapefruit, vanilla, cardamom and more to make your drink just a little more special.
It was hands down one of the best martinis I’ve ever had. Tanqueray 10 is the go to gin, which I’ve found to be the case at many respected martini bars I’ve visited. The drink was diluted just enough to keep it from from drinking too strong, and the hint of grapefruit (my chosen bitter), added the faintest hint of citrus to make the drink just that much more complex.
It’s interesting to see just how diverse a martini can be. My two favorites in the world are the Connaught martini, and the Atlas martini from Atlas Bar some 8,000 miles away in Singapore. The Atlas version is much more mellow and accessible, where the Connaught is more robust and personalized depending on your mood.
Both fantastic, and both different in their own ways.
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The experience at Connaught was second to none, and once again, despite our somewhat pedestrian appearance, they staff never missed a beat in making us feel special, and impressing us with their drinks.
While I’m forgetting the name and specific ingredients now, Tate ordered a passionfruit drink that was predictably incredible (as most drinks with passionfruit are).
To top off the retelling of just how fancy this place is, you have to head to the men’s restroom.
Yes, the restroom.
It is there, that you’ll find urinals with glass protectors that jut out from the bottom of the urinals to protect your undoubtedly expensive custom shoes, so that if things get a little ummm, wild, you have no fear of getting them dirty.
We would later come to find out, this was relatively common among some of the nicer bars and hotels we visited on the trip, but all the same, it was a unique experience for someone who hails from one of the least formal cities in America.
In the end, our time at Connaught was far too short. We were only able to stay for one drink, as we needed to get back to our hotel to prepare for our next stop (The American Bar), and we didn’t want to make the same underdressed mistake twice.
With that said, there are few bars in the world that I am more excited to revisit. The service, the ambiance, and of course the drinks were all world class, and you’d struggle to call it anything else.
There are some top bars we’ve been to where it’s been a bit of a stretch to understand exactly why they’re so highly regarded…the Connaught Bar is not one of those places. It lived up to every expectation we had, and then some. And that’s why I have it among my top 10 of all time.
I’ll be revisiting Connaught in May, so I’m looking forward to getting some better photos.