I had the first drink at Claridge's newest bar - here's why it will become London's post-pandemic hotspot

·4 min read
Claridges
Claridges

Claridge’s, that stately grande dame who has resided over Mayfair’s comings and goings on its current site since 1898, has been busy. There were the exemplary efforts that its staff went to during the pandemic, when the hotel - which had shut its doors for the first time in its 164-year history - invited NHS workers who had been stationed in local hospitals to stay, providing them with (some rather heavenly) bed and board.

Then there are the hotel’s plans for a subterranean swimming pool and spa currently underway - it’s first, not that a hint of drilling or banging would ever dare to echo around its Jazz Age foyer - as well ambitious plans for a new £50k a night super suite. Oh, and a wine shop set to open soon, for the local W1 oenophile. It’s safe to say that the London institution - which has played host to everyone from Queen Elizabeth to Winston Churchill - hasn’t sat twiddling her bejeweled thumbs during lockdown.

Claridges
Claridges

This week, it ticked another element of its rather plump to do list; the opening of its first new bar in 30 years, the Painter’s Room. Tucked down a little nook of the ground floor where the glamorous portraits of Claridge’s in-house illustration David Downton hang, the intimate space has been many things over the years - a cloakroom, a storage room - but in the 1930s it was home to an array of murals by artist Mary Lea. So in dreaming up the Painter’s Room, interior designer Bryan O’Sullivan collaborated with another pioneering female artist, Annie Morris, to create a series of swirling illustrations; abstract human and animal-like figures prance across the blush pink walls as you nibble on the paprika cheese puffs.

Claridges
Claridges

While the Fumoir - the hotel’s signature drinking den with its smoky Lalique mirrored walls - is all dark glamour and glinting amethyst - this new bar is a candyfloss arrangement of lightest rose, most remarkably in the enormous slab of grooved pink onyx that makes up the bar. It’s an astounding thing; crafted in Italy by three artisans and shipped across to the heart of Mayfair.

Claridges
Claridges

The menu takes its cue from the artistic legacy of the space; cocktails are split into three sections dividing lightness with experimental variations and classics, with the flavours of European destinations known to have inspired famous artists employed to great effect by director of mixology Nathan McCarley O’Neill.

Claridges
Claridges

First up, there’s a classic vodka martini to rival the best that James Bond could sink, served with the ‘twist’ element - the lemon rind and olive - on ice to the side. The Saint Remy takes its cue from Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom, a herbal concoction that could be cloying - the sweetness of almond and the rich fruitiness of quince - but isn’t; it’s sublime; warming, peppery and aromatic.

Claridges
Claridges

I’ve never been one to naturally veer towards a bellini - too sugary, too pulpy, too Instagramming-in-Saint-Mark's-Square - so the idea of what sounds like a sub-par variant, the Almost A Bellini, doesn’t entice. However, our charming waiter Paolo (wearing a painter’s jacket, nice stylistic touch) convinces me, and my aperitivo prejudices are proven wrong; it’s the best thing we drink all night. A cheering raspberry hue, it’s made with the cognac-like wine Pineau des Charentes and Chateau La Coste; a fizzy, tart confection of a drink.

Claridges
Claridges

Nibbles are as sumptuous as you’d expect; a beetroot tartare with crudites with a kick to knock you off your pearly bar stool, and truffle-dusted croque monsieur and ham and potato croquettes that had this vegetarian asking for absolution. It’s back to the Linda McCartney sausages tomorrow, honest guv’.

There’s a feeling in The Painter’s Room of being deliciously cosseted - the location tucked into the centre of the hotel, a pearl within an oyster - and the soft shell hues as you sip that peachy nectar. Which as we nervously negotiate the socialising terrain once more, is a welcome atmosphere to have cultivated. If the Fumoir is the darkly wicked femme fatale of the high society drinking set, the Painter’s Room is her ethereal, soft-focus sister who makes a quiet impact all of her own.

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