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A Tale of Two Bars

It all started innocently enough. Six friends meet for lunch on a crisp autumn afternoon. The view from the Oxo Tower in London is sublime. We sip champagne whilst we wait for our friends to gather, then switch to Pinot Grigio with lunch. We all eat fish, because someone said it’s good for us.

Our appetites sated and our whistles whetted we taxi to the Savoy for the main event; savouring and comparing martinis at its two bars. We start at the American Bar, the storied venue for many a post war rendezvous. The term “American Bar” was first used in London in the 1870’s to signify an establishment serving American style cocktails.  Richard D’Oyly Carte founded the Savoy Hotel with profits from his Gilbert & Sullivan operas in 1889. Cesar Ritz, his famous manager opened the American Bar soon after. For many the American Bar at the Savoy has been the temple to the martini in London.

We start with a Chase potato vodka Martini.  It’s good, but our post luncheon palates demanded something crisper with tighter after notes. The American Bar has a light art deco theme – but since it’s refurbishment in 2010 the bar appears diminished, lacking in presence.  The space is chopped up and unappealingly peopled by large American tourists in baggy trousers and comfortable shoes.

We move to the Beaufort bar, new to the hotel since 2010.  It has a black and gold art deco theme. It’s decor falls somewhere between old style glamour and Dubai bling. It works. We order the old standard – Grey Goose vodka martinis, straight up with a lemon twist. It’s perfect; the clean, crisp flavour of our favourite French vodka cutting through palates perhaps over oiled by our piscine gluttony.  The Martini’s go down easily, lubricating our conversation. My friends include several tall leggy blondes who appear to have hollowed out legs which have an infinite capacity for holding alcohol.  They are excellent drinking companions and good friends.  However, after six Martinis each, even they needed sustenance.  In fact, we all had the munchies.

The Beaufort Bar at the Savoy Hotel

A strange thing this – the drinker’s desire for food. It’s pretty culture specific. At college in America we would search for greasy burgers after imbibing. The square cut White Castle burgers they sold in Philadelphia were a hit – both for their taste and their cheapness. I recall $4 would get a bag of half a dozen small “sliders”.  The restaurant chain went national in the nineties taking its distinctive white trash flavour to Americans who didn’t know what they were missing.  Drinkers in Colombo seek Kottu Roti made in innumerable “kade’s” on the Galle Road; a delectable combination of a thin pancake chopped up with vegetables, egg, chicken and spices.  In Britain, drinkers seek curry – I know not why.  Perversely,  a searingly hot Vindaloo is guaranteed to add a layer of piquant complexity to the following morning’s gastric goings on….

We repair to Dishoom, the trendy Covent Garden Indian evoking the spirit of a working man’s Indian cafe of the 1950’s (minus the flies, filth and humidity of the original. Actually its pretty generic in its decor barring some 1970’s posters for Indian consumer goods and facsimiles of magazine covers from Femina, a women’s weekly). We like Dishoom’s tapas-like sharing menu. We order prosecco  – its mild sweetness goes well with spicy food. It’s bubbles add an Alpha and Omega quality to our day’s drinking. We have closure.

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