Dukes Hotel, Polo Bar and Barcelona’s Dry Martini

These elegant bars in London and Barcelona eschew cocktail pyrotechnics in favour of the perfect dry martini

The Gannet celebrated a Significant Birthday recently and it occurred to me that, fun though my life had been till then, it was now time to put away childish things and cease gadding about Shoreditch in search of smoke-and-mirrors cocktails featuring frozen powders of horseradish and wood sorrel in achingly hip bars, cheek-by-jowl with drinkers half my age in checked shirts. In short, I resolved to Grow Up.

And so, rather than dabble in the potions conjured up by cutting-edge mixologists (actually, I was getting a little tired of the “This is not a Negroni!” “No sir, this is our take on the Negroni” conversation), I thought I would instead search out the perfect dry martini – that most grown-up of cocktails.

To which end, I might have gone to Dukes hotel, the venerable St James’s establishment where the martinis are served with a flourish from a trolley. Do not, though, take heed of James Bond, around whom the list is themed: contrary to popular opinion, Bond knew nothing about martinis. For a start, he ordered them with vodka, not gin, and shaken, not stirred, which is the wrong way round.

Every cocktail buff worth their salted macadamias should have a martini at Dukes, but I fancied a change. The Polo Bar in The Westbury is one of the most grown-up bars I know: general manager Elias Yiallouris – a man so in love with his job he gets excited by a new shipment of green olives – presides over an ineffably elegant room, and the cocktails are sublime.


A martini here is served with a small glass of it on the side too: ideal for converting a sceptical friend to what HL Mencken called “the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet”.

And the bar food might actually prevent you from having dinner at all (a dangerous road, it must be said): panko-crusted king prawns with sweet chilli sauce, for instance, or cubes of top-notch foie gras rolled in crushed pistachios. The other cocktails are also pretty fine, relying on thoughtful mixtures of premium spirits and liqueurs, rather than modish pyrotechnics. There are mirrors in the Polo Bar, but no smoke.

My other top spot for a dry martini is further afield: the reassuringly named Dry Martini (pictured) in Barcelona, where – according to the electronic counter above the bar – they have served more than a million of them since opening in 1978. It clicked on a few digits during my visit too.

White-jacketed waiters glide among the tables dispensing their chilly restoratives like medieval apothecaries, an aura reinforced by the ceiling-high wooden cabinets of ancient bottles: for an ageing bird like The Gannet, there is no better place to raise the spirits.


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