The staff of Donovan Bar at Brown's Hotel, Mayfair, London
Nemo propheta in patria. It is common in Italy, it must be said, for certain fashions and trends to catch on in the eyes of the general public only after the international public has celebrated and applauded them. It happens in every field: fashion, architecture, scientific studies and even in the world of mixed drinks and its trends. Today, our country is witnessing a renaissance of hotel cocktail bars, especially in the luxury hospitality segment, following a fashion that has already been established abroad for several decades. Indeed, in some international capitals, we are witnessing a diversification of cocktail bars depending on the imprint that the bar manager gives to his establishment and the drink list.
London is one of the capitals that certainly sets the pace in this sector and has done so for several decades now. Here different ways and contexts intersect and coexist in which the hospitality industry achieves important results, not only in terms of hospitality but also of professional bartenders who receive great recognition from the most prominent rankings. They become destinations, the occasion to visit the British metropolis in a new way.
To give you an interesting insight into what is happening in London and its strong repercussions in Italy, we have chosen three venues with three different profiles that also reflect the different establishments where they are located. It is no coincidence that two of these cocktail bars are run by Italians, underlining the earlier point about how our compatriots' hospitality and creativity have much more recognition across borders.
The Connaught Bar staff in a shot from May 2022 (lateef.photography)
Icebreaker, Connaught Bar cocktail (photo Christian Banfield)
The focus behind each drink list has always been to give guests a memorable experience: once through the doors of The Connaught Bar customers enter a world where they can watch the spectacle of a Martini Cocktail served on the trolley, experience a drink menu studied in terms of ingredients, execution and presentation. At the same time, however, The Connaught also represents the great Italian ability to diversify and create different bars with unique offers within the same establishment. Yes, because Agostino not only coordinates the cocktail bar now ranked eighth on the 50Best Bars list, but also coordinates and supervises all the hotel's other gastronomic offerings.
As Perrone himself tells us: "Within the Connaught Hotel, the various venues differ in style and personality, so that we have a wide and varied offer for our guests, both local and international. For this to be possible, there are no trends to adapt to the various spaces, but rather constant values that unite our team. These are not trends but a true ethos based on dedication to the customer experience, attention to detail and excellence in our industry. The Connaught Bar represents the cocktail entity where tradition and innovation in mixed drinks are in perfect harmony; the Coburg Bar has a more classic soul and is distinguished by its special selection of Whisky; the Red Room is a glamorous destination for wine and art lovers, while still presenting a fine cocktail and food offering that reflects our standards. Teamwork within the hotel is key to this. We have masterfully skilled heads of department for each area and each venue. Their input and autonomy in developing beverage projects and programmes based on exemplary knowledge and experience in the industry are fundamental to establishing and maintaining a distinct identity and essence for each of the bars within the Connaught Hotel.”
The Donovan Bar counter at Brown's Hotel (photo Janos Grapow)
Salvatore Calabrese, The Donovan Bar (photo Lateef)
With its retro and intimate atmosphere, The Donovan catches the eye for its refined décor and for the counter with a backlit bottle rack that is the absolute star of the scene. The hospitality of this cocktail bar is intended to give each guest a private and unique experience. You have the impression of crossing the threshold of one of those iconic venues from 1930s films where you can choose from rare bottles with even significant costs and where the mixing is tailored to the taste of an international clientele. As Pavan points out, “It is an honour to work in a bar so rich in tradition, elegance and finesse. I believe that the driving force behind it all is in the talent and passion of our entire team, which acts as a driving force and makes The Donovan so special.” The harmony and pursuit of perfection can also be perceived in the drink list: no special effects, but rather the desire to create cocktails that are seemingly simple and essential but which contain, in each sip, a story and a theme that follows the same fil rouge of the entire seasonal menu.
Elegance and essentiality have always been Calabrese's hallmark, something he has well conveyed to Pavan, and which explains how the barman from Campania has managed to win over stars, royalty and presidents with his style which has much to do with personal attitude and approach to life. The current drink list celebrates famous people who have visited the Brown Hotel and have been portrayed by photographer Terence Donovan. In a menu that tells the story of writers, musicians and authors, the cocktails become a way of making a character iconic. For example, the signature Flower Power mesmerises with its purple colour, perfect and crystal clear in its martini glass, encapsulating Pavan's extreme care in blending Whitley Neill Gin re-distilled with rambutan, butterfly pea tea, lavender honey syrup and lemon juice. The touch of citrus perfectly balances its sweetness and tells the story of the power of the flowers in all their perfection, without distorting or covering up the distinctive delicate features of lavender.
However, we also find drinks for the great collectors who want to go even deeper with Vintage Cocktails. Not just great classics like Negroni or Vesper, but small treasures enclosed in a glass where rare labels like a 1946 Cognac or a 1960 Campari make drinking a classic even more iconic. For those who wanted to indulge in The Donovan experience without flying to London, their international guests could also touch down in Milan: on 15 June they were at the Moebius Bar and on the 19 June at the Seta Bar in the Mandarin Oriental.
We now leave Mayfair, move to the Thames and its banks, and visit the last cocktail bar of our little tour. Walking across the river helps us leave behind everything we have seen so far to be projected into a revolutionary context where experimentation, science and a whimsical pinch make sitting at the bar for a good cocktail just as interesting.
Lyaness, the interiors
Ryan Chetiyawardana and the Rapoport (photo Caitlin Isola)
Here, Lyan goes back to basics, i.e. he studies the five main ingredients, self-produces them in a laboratory based on technology and innovation, and illustrates them in a drink list that guides you in the understanding of the individual ingredients and the making of the choice, having acquired new knowledge and expertise that will make each guest a different, more cultured person once they leave Lyaness.
All of Mr Lyan's knowledge is the result of his training. His first steps were taken in the kitchen, of which he uses many techniques to create the ingredients and the combination of raw materials that go into making his drink. That is why his menu is called a cookbook because, as he tells us, it helps people understand the processes behind them and how they are applied in the drink. People usually think that flavours and aromas belong to the gastronomic world and do not think they can also be used behind a bar. For example, people read recipe books to learn how to make sauces and learn the secrets of how to make them. The same, according to Ryan Cheti, can be done for the ingredients of a drink, which has been done in the current menu of his cocktail bar. It is as if each guest is offered the chance to peer through the door of a secret laboratory and witness the magic of how a bitter, a vinegar for example, was created and this also creates a connection, an emotion that guides the guest in their final choice of drink.
Additionally, Ryan pushes his guests to go beyond convention and experiment with new flavours, almost to the limit of the usual coordinates we know. The Lyaness’s menu surprises by working on five ancestral ingredients such as Tree Caramel, in which the hints of wood are pushed to the limit, Everything Vinegar in which acidity is balanced with sweetness by making a homemade vinegar, Death Bitters in which an attempt is made to overcome the decay of the raw materials once harvested and instead try to capture their freshness in its fullest expression, Thunder Mushroom which investigates umami and how micro-organisms work at an enzymatic level and, finally, B+B in which vegetable notes find their fullest expression and help give structure and depth to the drink without using eggs, oil or other fats.
Lyaness and Mr Lyan represent the ultimate expression of today's blending: they tell the story of how taste has evolved and how hotels are also becoming meeting places for creative, original people who contribute to modernity and to the small and large revolutions that start from humans and their curiosity.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso
The world of cocktails and bartenders as told by Identità Golose.
writer and screenwriter, she arrived at Identità Golose after training at Gambero Rosso's school of wine and food journalism