The Savoy is the rare hotel that conjures up sophistication at the mere mention of its name. If the walls at this Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star London address could talk, they’d tell you that Winston Churchill once sat in a chair over there, Katharine Hepburn dined at that table in that corner and Britney Spears was just snapped by the paparazzi at that very door.
But you don’t have to be a famous overnight guest at the 130-year-old institution to experience the property’s pomp. Stop by its iconic American Bar for a drink one evening. With white-jacket-donning mixologists parading around a stunning, art-deco-inspired room, you feel it there, too. It’s no wonder why the sacred space was an obvious selection for Forbes Travel Guide’s 2019 Verified List of the World’s Best Hotel Bars.
We talked to American Bar’s head bartender, Maxim Schulte, to learn more about the magic behind the martinis.
Congratulations on American Bar being named one of the best hotel bars in the world. How does it feel to consistently earn new distinctions, even after all of these years in operation?
It is always an amazing feeling to be recognized by such highly respected organizations and publications such as Forbes Travel Guide.
Over the past 125 years, the bar has developed significantly, and it is, honestly, such an incredible feeling to see it operating at the high level it is today. The greatest sense of achievement comes from the recognition we receive from our guests as we believe that they are the most important part of our business.
Fine bar experiences can happen in many places around London. But year after year, American Bar is still able to stand out from the cocktails crowd. What are a few things that make the bar so unique?
It is important to take our 125 years of history into consideration when discussing the American Bar. Since 1904, Savoy colleagues have welcomed guests into the American Bar. It is the people who give us such a unique feel; our colleagues, our pianists and our guests bring life and the vibrant atmosphere to this unique destination.
Our drinks and menus have evolved over the years, all through the collaborative efforts of our team. It is the creative development of each and every one of them which positions us where we are today.
One thing that separates you from others is that you never rest on your laurels. You keep redefining the drinking experience. Tell me the backstory behind the fascinating 20 Songs/20 Cocktails menu, a selection of libations that have been inspired by iconic songs performed at the bar.
We believe it’s important to never stand still, even with a rich history such as ours. We like to consider ourselves as classically innovative.
Where possible, we like to draw on our history and bring it to life in the present. It is what inspired us to create the Savoy Songbook, hosted by the American Bar. This year marks the 15th anniversary of [pianist] Jon Nickoll playing in the American Bar.
For those who have joined us, they may have noticed that approximately three-fourths of the guests are unable to see the bar itself, but they can almost all see the piano. In fact, if you were to take a bird’s-eye photo of the room, you might notice that it is also shaped like a grand piano. It really is the heart of the room. And for that reason, we wanted to create a menu which honored the importance of the piano within the bar.
If a couple was visiting the bar for the first time, what are a few drinks they should try to get a good sense of what the establishment is all about?
My advice to a couple visiting the American Bar for the first time would be to spend time browsing through the menu. Every member of our team contributed to our latest menu, and we have very carefully created flavor profiles for each drink to specifically accompany each of the songs.
If I had to suggest just two of our drinks, it would be a classic dry martini, which is made with our specially created dry vermouth with Cocchi, or a Hanky Panky, which is made with equal parts gin and sweet vermouth with a dash of Fernet Branca [amaro].
What aspect of American Bar are you most proud of?
First and foremost, it would have to be the team, both within The Savoy and more specifically, the American Bar. We are so fortunate to have so many talented and passionate individuals who are so dedicated to creating unique guest experiences.
We, of course, also take great pride in our drinks and our menu concepts, creating new experiences for our guests every time they return.
It is our guests who make our nights. We have incredibly loyal guests who are a part of our family, and it is them who really make every night so special for us.
London as a whole continues to flourish with its bar scene. How would you describe the bar landscape of the city?
What I love most about London is that it is so colorful, in terms of what the bars have to offer. From classical bars through to the more adventurous and experiential ones, it is the variety which makes it such a great place to go out.
It is why I believe that there aren’t any trends in London at the moment. So many things happen at any one time here, so it is hard to pinpoint trends. But I think that’s amazing because it means we are all creative in our own ways.