In an idle attempt to get this column to write itself, I have taken to living an increasingly silly life. I also thought it might help to summon the spirit of the late Michael Winner — who, when not telling dears to calm down, filled his joyfully erratic restaurant reviews with flagrantly dropped names — so over the past couple of weeks I’ve smoked with Marco Pierre White (clang), had a drink with Gordon Ramsay (clang) and found myself cooking supper for fashion designer Nicole Farhi (clang).
And yet none of that was quite so silly as the inaugural Claridge’s bar crawl, which I’m writing up mostly for the benefit of several other attendees, who I suspect may not be able to recall it unaided. Bit of a night.
The crawl, which saw a bunch of us drink in each of the hotel’s bars, was slung on in celebration of the hotel’s new bar book, which came out a few days ago (yours at all good retailers, et cetera). Hotels have a habit with these, the most famous being Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book, which is generally held to be the one booze bible to rule them all. My personal favourite remains Charles Schumann’s amusingly taciturn American Bar, but this from Claridge’s is right up there with the best of them. Apparently we’re a few years off the centenary of the very first cocktail party — in the Seventies, novelist Alec Waugh claimed he dreamt them up in 1924 — so it feels only right to have a bang-up-to-speed chaperone for the next hundred years.
The mint pages boast 400 recipes, plenty of useful advice and stories behind the drinks that even I like — and I consider my only dietaries to be two deadly allergies: kiwi, and let-me-explain-the-concept. But the hotel’s Denis Broci and Nathan McCarley-O’Neill have a deft touch: when they’re warning about measures or getting the ice right, it feels like they’re gently nodding us on, not telling us off.
The book has enough for both beginners and those with worn livers. Here are classics — say, a triumphant Sidecar (brandy, Cointreau, lemon juice, sugar) or a cold-curing Penicillin (two types of scotch, lemon, ginger, honey) — alongside witty riffs, like the “breakfast” Martini (just add marmalade…). I made a Journalist — of course I did — stirring in gin, triple sec and both red and white vermouth. Strong? Well, let’s just say it had the power to move deadlines.
The crawl was mostly made up of thirsty journalists — plus my mate, a doctor pretending to have a lesser career as a travel writer, and who I insisted was called Hercule (Jamie seemed too prosaic given the circs). We were full to the brim, relentlessly asking for top-ups and, in the case of at least one of our gang, throwing back Champagne chasers with every round. None of the guests seemed to have been warned; there was a bemused bride who must have wondered if having two dozen slurred “congrats” from a conga line of hacks was all part of her super-luxe wedding package. But what an evening. If they don’t do another, try a DIY job; all four bars are brilliant.
Afterwards, one of the lovely Claridge’s lot announced a “last man standing” award, which to my fury went to Clerkenwell Boy. I took comfort in assuming he only won it because he has a squillion Instagram followers, though he was, I’ll admit, in better shape by the end. Perhaps he decided to have one drink at every bar, instead of about seven. Still — I’ve a reputation to think of. Next time.