db Drinks: The American Bar at The Stafford

Resident sybarite Lucy Shaw heads to the recently revamped American Bar at The Stafford for Champagne cocktails and spring pea croquettes with truffle aioli.

The concept: The American Bar at The Stafford hotel in in St James’s is lesser known than the bar of the same name at The Savoy across town, and less showy in its décor and demeanour, but if you’re looking for a laid-back hotel bar with a private club feel, it’s hard to beat.

One of London’s oldest surviving American bars, it has been serving classic cocktails for nearly a century. The bar holds a soft spot for me as it’s where I interviewed an ebullient Dan Aykroyd one Valentine’s Day about everything from his skull-shaped vodka to his family connection to Arthur Conan Doyle.

It’s the kind of place you can imagine more discreet celebrities would love, as flashbulbs are nowhere to be seen and patrons wouldn’t bat an eyelid if an A-lister walked in. I’m told by bar manager Benoît Provost that David Beckham is a regular and loves the fish ‘n’ chips.

The Birdcage

The décor: One of the most striking aspects of the bar is its ceiling, which is adorned with hundreds of ties, flags, model planes and even teddy bears donated by hotel guests.

Paddington Bear turns slowly on invisible string above my head in his signature blue duffel coat and red wellington boots.

Framed photos of famous guests line the walls of the cosy club room just off the main bar alongside a large frame filled with what look to be cub scout badges.

In the main bar oak panelling abounds and expensive spirits stand temptingly behind glass, while Ella Fitzgerald’s mellifluous vocals float through the airwaves.

The drinks: Neapolitan bar manager Salvatore Megna has devised a new list of 12 cocktails, including two non-alcoholic serves, that celebrate the hotel’s location in St James’s.

My evening began with a White Mouse, named in honour of Stafford guest Nancy Wake, a secret agent who was the Gestapo’s most wanted person during World War two with a five million franc price tag on her head. Her ability to elude capture earned her the code name White Mouse.

The White Mouse

The drink itself blended saffron gin with Champagne, lemon juice, rosemary syrup and egg white. A refreshing twist on a classic sour, the sharpness of the lemon paired well with the savory elements of the rosemary and saffron in this sophisticated sip.

Another interesting drop with The Godolopin, which blended Woodford Reserve, lemon juice, egg white and claret infused with berries and cinnamon.

Named in honour of English nobleman and St James’s resident Francis Godolphin, the second Earl of Godolphin, the sour sip had a comforting Christmassy feel from the warming spices and gingerbread notes, but was balanced by a lick of lemon.

Signature sips: For those more interested in Instagramming their cocktails rather than drinking them, then the Oppenheimer is a must order. Tipping its hat to nearby auction house Christie’s, where an Oppenheimer blue diamond – the largest blue diamond in the world – sold for £57.6 million in 2016, the striking turquoise cocktail, made with Beluga vodka, Italicus, St Germain elderflower liqueur and lemongrass syrup, is served in a diamond-shaped glass.

Stealing the show however is The Birdcage, a compelling combination of Diplomatico Reserva Rum, Plantation 3 Stars rum, Frangelico, pistachio syrup and lime. Named in honour of nearby Birdcage Walk, the former site of the royal aviary, the punchy sip had appealing sweetness that was balanced out by the sour tang of rum and nuttiness from the pistachio syrup and hazelnut liqueur.

The Godolphin

The food: Chef Ben Tish, formerly of The Salt Yard Group, recently made the move to The Stafford and is in charge of the bar menu.

Divided up into snacks, sharing plates and larger plates, the standout snack are the spring pea croquettes with truffle aioli, which exploded with the summery sweetness of perfectly in season peas and were given added interest by the earthy truffle aioli.

Other tempting treats are the crispy squid with squid ink aioli and juicy Ibérico pork pinchos. Served medium rare, the beef burger with mature cheese and onion jam was on point, and helped soak up all the alcohol.

Less impressive was the pan fried potato gnocchi with wild mushrooms and hazelnuts, which I had high hopes for but was overly greasy and stodgy.

Who to know: Bar manager Benoît Provost has run the American Bar since 1997 with impeccable manners and easy charm. Cocktail lovers should seek out head bartender Salvatore Megna to find out the stories behind each of his 12 sips.

Don’t leave without: Looking up! The ceiling at the bar is a treasure trove of fascinating trinkets and well worth ogling. You can even leave your own memento at the bar, which might make its way onto the ceiling.

Last word: The American Bar at The Stafford isn’t a glitzy place to see and be seen – it’s a discreet, understated drinking den with a cosy club feel.

With its quirky new cocktail menu, the bar is showing that it’s keen to compete in the same sphere as the likes of The Savoy and The Connaught, and its second concept menu is already in development. While not the trendiest bar in town, The American Bar at The Stafford is a timeless classic.

The American Bar at The Stafford, 16 St James’s Place, St. James’s, London SW1A 1PE; Tel: +44 (0)20 7493 0111

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