Britain’s buzziest new hotel cocktail bars

A new generation of hotels is placing experimental cocktails centre stage – and proving a magnet for the mixology cognoscenti. Alice Lascelles reports

The light‑filled GinTonica bar at The Distillery
The light‑filled GinTonica bar at The Distillery | Image: Will Pryce

Hotels and good cocktails have long gone hand-in-hand – in fact, the very first cocktail bars in the early 1800s often doubled as the reception. Nowadays, bartenders may no longer be charged with running the check-in, but three new hotels for London – and a restoration in Scotland – prove that the link between top‑flight libations and a place to lay your head is still as strong as ever.

New for Covent Garden this spring is the elegant Henrietta Hotel. Situated just a stone’s throw from Covent Garden Piazza, this 18-room boutique hotel is the latest venture for the Experimental Group, the louche Parisian collective that made its name with a tiny cocktail bar in the second arrondissement before growing into an empire of 19 bars, restaurants and hotels that now cater for well-heeled bohemians from London to New York.

Cecconi’s, the all‑day Italian brasserie at The Ned
Cecconi’s, the all‑day Italian brasserie at The Ned

Covent Garden is one of the most beautiful parts of London for me; it always reminds me a bit of Paris,” says Experimental Group co-founder and Covent Garden resident Romée de Goriainoff, explaining his decision to site his hotel in such a tourist hotspot. “London has probably the best cocktail scene – and increasingly one of the best wine scenes – in the world right now, so it’s a very exciting time to be doing this.” 

As anyone who’s been to Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown, Joyeux Bordel or Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels will know, Experimental Group projects always put good food and drink to the fore. But this time the group has brought in the big guns with an 80-seat restaurant on the ground and first floors serving “light and simple dishes” by culinary pin-up Ollie Dabbous, and two bars mixing drinks by cocktail authorities Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown (who also happens to be the master distiller of Sipsmith gin). 

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For the interior, designer Dorothée Meilichzon took inspiration from Covent Garden’s history as an orchard and later a fruit and veg market, filling the space with dried flowers, plants, hand-painted murals and lush green fabrics topped by an arching glass atrium. And the cocktail list is verdant, too, with lots of ingredients foraged or grown around Miller and Brown’s home in the Cotswolds: rhubarb gin, homemade maraschino and a regularly changing choice of “sipping spirits”, such as a seven-fruit liqueur made from a tart assemblage of red, black and white currants, raspberries, blackberries and sloes. 

Each of the 12 drinks references a classic: the Ralph Rigamarole “gets nasty on a Negroni” (Miller’s words) by adding sloe gin and Irish whiskey to the mix, while Sirens of Titan reinvents the Old Fashioned as rum spiked with Angostura-steeped pineapple. True to the naughty spirit of Experimental Cocktail Club, there are some guilty pleasures, too, such as A Fall of Moon Dust: a grown-up ice-cream float made with vanilla ice cream, maraschino, Cointreau and champagne that is beyond heavenly. 

A Dorothée Meilichzon-designed suite at the Henrietta Hotel
A Dorothée Meilichzon-designed suite at the Henrietta Hotel | Image: Henrietta Hotel

If the names of some of these drinks sound a little curious, it’s because they’re titles of books published by the great Victor Gollancz, who occupied the same address on Henrietta Street from the 1920s to the 1940s. His illustrious client list included George Orwell, Frank Herbert and Kingsley Amis, and as a consequence you’ll also find Down & Out (in Paris and London) and Dune on the menu, as well as Lucky Jim – a crisp cocktail of vodka, dry vermouth and cucumber juice that Amis created for his own book launch in 1954. 

Each of Henrietta Hotel’s beautifully appointed rooms – which include two rooftop suites with terraces overlooking the London skyline – also boasts a very fine mini-bar with a choice of bottled cocktails. So if you can’t bear to leave the comfort of your bedroom, with its white marble skirting, bespoke carpets and ornate bedhead featuring a bas-relief of mirrors and Rubelli fabrics, you don’t have to. That said, if you don’t, the party may well come to you.

The rooms at The Ned exude old-school glamour
The rooms at The Ned exude old-school glamour

Mischief of a similar kind, I suspect, will also soon be taking place in the Vault Room, the members’ bar housed deep in the bowels of Soho House’s vast new hotel, club and eatery in Bank, The Ned. Lined with 3,000 safety deposit boxes and accessed via a 2m-wide metal porthole, this fortified lair looks like a set from a Bond film, but it’s actually the real deal, installed by the building’s former owners Midland Bank (and Soho House has got the 3,000 keys to prove it). Softened with rich velvet sofas and low lighting, this moody bunker will be all about old-school glamour, with a menu of martinis, champagne cocktails and late-night digestifs served in vintage-style glassware.

Eight floors up on the roof, meanwhile, a second members’ bar complete with pool, daybeds and spectacular views of the City will offer up a more sunshiney list of refreshers, including Aperol Spritzes, Moscow Mules and the love-it-or-hate-it Frozé (a slushy made with rosé). For more private gatherings, there will also be two ornamental domes on the roof that have been ingeniously converted into chandelier-clad party pads. These will serve a similar feel-good menu to the main bar, with the option of having cocktails bottled under crown cap, so they can be pulled from a great mound of crushed ice like a beer. 

Cocktails at The Century Bar at Gleneagles give playful nods to field sports
Cocktails at The Century Bar at Gleneagles give playful nods to field sports

Even if you’re not a member, you can get a good drink in this Grade I-listed monolith. On the ground floor in the cavernous former banking hall, the public at large can choose from an astonishing seven restaurants, including an American-style diner and a Parisian café (members and hotel guests also have access to the more formal Lutyens Grill). Ranged among the towering verdite columns and original banking counters installed by Lutyens in 1924, each of these will offer mixed drinks in keeping with their menus. 

The most extensive bars, though, will be located at Cecconi’s – which promises a selection of aperitivi and a great choice of vermouth – and the more Anglophile Millie’s, a 24-hour bar specialising in seasonal gin-based drinks, Bloody Marys and pick-me-ups including a twist on a French 75 made with English gin and sparkling wine. Non‑alcoholic and low-alcohol cocktails, as well as kombucha and fresh juices, will also be in plentiful supply throughout. And when the party’s over, it’s just a short ride in the lift up to the 252-room hotel, an opulent collaboration with the Sydell Group furnished in the style of a transatlantic ocean liner with chandeliers, antiques and some very grand four-poster beds. 

One of The Distillery’s bedrooms, with views over Portobello Road
One of The Distillery’s bedrooms, with views over Portobello Road | Image: Will Pryce

Another major opening in London is The Distillery on Portobello Road, a micro-distillery, bar and boutique hotel from the makers of Portobello Road Gin. Housed in a handsome old pub opposite The Electric, it offers gin fans the full immersion over four floors, starting with a three-hour Ginstitute masterclass in the basement where you can blend and bottle your own recipe (£110, including a bottle of your own gin, one of Portobello Road Gin and four gin cocktails). This is also the place to meet the family of pint-sized copper pot stills that produce The Distillery’s own limited edition spirits, which find their way into the cocktails served in the pubby Resting Room on the ground floor (the Super Dry Martini made with its gentian and rooibos tea gin is particularly good). 

On the first floor, the light-filled GinTonica bar serves more than 100 different gins from around the world in elaborate G&Ts, accompanied by delicious tapas from a copper-worktopped open kitchen that can also be enjoyed in a private dining space on the second. And high up on the third, a trio of cosy bedrooms afford superb views of Portobello Market. Kitted out in a mix of cool neutrals and midcentury furniture, these rooms are hip rather than high luxury, but every detail says “make yourself at home” – from the record player (complete with vinyl from neighbouring Rough Trade) to the mini-bar, which comes stocked with bottled cocktails, craft spirits and a selection of bar tools. 

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Further afield, Gleneagles has also undergone a facelift, with the result that the grande dame of Scottish hotels now boasts three fine new options for lovers of the mixed drink. The newly resurrected American Bar, which dates back to 1924, has been sumptuously furnished by the David Collins Studio to create three intimate lounges specialising in deco-style drinks. Champagne cocktails are the showpiece here, served tableside from a specially commissioned cocktail trolley by designer Andrew Nebbett, but the bar’s list of rare Scotch and bourbon is also impressive. It is, for a start, the only bar in the world to include all four Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection Ultras (£750 per dram), a series of ultra-rare, extra-old bottlings from Strathisla, Glenlivet, Mortlach and Linkwood, that arrive on a silver tray complete with cut-glass water jug, glass and ice bowl by Richard Brendon

Across the hall, the David Collins team have also had their way with The Century Bar, which evokes the surrounding landscape with a palette of purples and greens. A cocktail menu full of local ingredients, including sea buckthorn, dandelion and spruce, brings the outdoors inside too, with some playful nods to field sports along the way: the Smoking Gun, a cocktail of Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old, vermouth, maraschino, bitters and birch water, comes to the table in a puff of gunpowder smoke.

Away from the main house, golfers can now also toast a good round with a drink at the new Auchterarder 70, a pub offering a selection of rum cocktails, craft beer and ale. And if you like craft gin, then book a suite – as that’s the only way you’ll get to taste Gleneagles’ own bespoke gin by fellow Scots Eden Mill, which comes accompanied by everything you need to mix a Negroni in the comfort of your own room.

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