Sabre your own Champagne bottle, craft your own gin, and shake your own martini in this great imbibing city.
Stepping out from your black cab, you arrive at The Milestone Hotel, a posh property at the southwestern edge of Hyde Park, and check into one of its staggering two-level master suites. Inside, a loaded DIY gin-and-tonic station has been prepared for your arrival, and you go ahead and customise a quick welcome refreshment. Then you clean up and don your finest blazer before heading for a sabrage demo—that is, how to be a total badass and slice off the cork of your Champagne bottle with a sword. Welcome to London.
Sign up for the Milestone’s The Art of Sabrage experience and you can pick which bottle of bubbles you’d like—though Champagne works best because of the thickness of the bottle—and either let one of the pros handle the job for you or take matters into your own hands. You may as well get in on the fun yourself.
The sword, thankfully, should not be sharp; nor do you need to worry about the most forceful blow. The bubbles take care of most of the work for you, as Champagne bottles have “the pressure of a London bus tyre,” according to the Milestone’s sommelier, David Nunes. A solid strike up the neck will get the job done, lopping off the cork and part of the bottle with it, and in moments like this, it’s best to remember Napoleon’s belief that in victory one deserves Champagne, and that in defeat, one needs it.
In either case, if you’re still thirsty you can retire to the hotel’s Stables Bar, decked out with the classic accoutrements of an old-school London members’ club: dark green and wooden accents, and trays of delicious snacks accompanying each round of evening drinks. “The bar is like an extension of your house,” says senior bartender Angelo Lo Greco. Make yourself at home, then, and enjoy one of the latest offerings from a creative range of cocktails combining big flavours with whimsical presentations. “Have you ever seen fire on ice?” Lo Greco asks—and no, he’s not wondering about your Game of Thrones viewing patterns—before pouring flaming green chartreuse and rosemary into a stirring glass with rosemary-infused gin and Carpano Antica Formula vermouth for the Dear Rosemary cocktail.
Continue your hands-on imbibing adventures at The Distillery in Notting Hill. Portobello Road Gin launched the four-floor space at the end of 2016, incorporating two bars, a fully functional distillery in the basement, and on the top floor, three comfortable guest rooms. Even if you don’t nab one of the rooms, you should still attend a course at The Ginstitute. Here you’ll learn about the history of gin while sipping on four cocktails, all before crafting your own unique batch by sampling dozens of single botanical distillates and blending together your favourites. You’ll get two bottles of gin to take home—one from Portobello, one of your own—and even better, they keep your signature recipe on file, so you can always give them a call and place an order for some more.
Still, sometimes you want the hard work to be done for you, and here’s where one of London’s very best gifts to the world comes into play: the martini trolley. Visit Dukes Bar at the Dukes London hotel and witness a masterclass in martini wizardry from legendary barman Alessandro Palazzi.
“A martini is not a hard drink to make; it is execution, temperature, and ingredients,” Palazzi says. Easy for him to say, but watch the master in action and you’d be hard-pressed to ever witness a repeat performance. “I learned from my peers, and now it’s my turn to pass it on,” he says, reflecting on his 45-year career. “I was born a bartender; I’ll die a bartender.”
Dukes Bar is famous as the location where James Bond author Ian Fleming came up with Bond’s famous “shaken not stirred” credo, much to the chagrin of many cocktail enthusiasts who insist that the method is incorrect. Palazzi doesn’t shake or stir his martinis; he freehand pours ingredients into a frozen glass and hands it over as is, tailoring every martini to the guest’s specific tastes.
Dukes isn’t the only martini trolley game in town, either, so hop on over to the Connaught Bar at The Connaught hotel. “We try to take the fine dining concept and offer it as fine drinking,” says Ago Perrone, the bar’s director of mixology. “We turn a story into a liquid experience.” It would be easy to order any number of elaborate and inventive cocktails from the menu, but let’s face it: You’re here for the Connaught Martini. Key to their take is a lineup of five house-made bitters, offering a choice of cardamom, lavender, ginseng and bergamot, vanilla, or coriander seed. Once the trolley is rolled out, pick your favourite and watch in awe as your martini is poured high as if raining down from the heavens.
Beyond sensational drinks and service, the bar offers prime people watching of the beautiful and stylish, Londoners and jet-setters alike. But don’t worry—with martini in hand, you’ll fit right in.