Ask a Londoner where the American Bar is, and depending on where you are, you will probably get a multitude of answers. Invariable though, they will almost always say “at The Savoy, on The Strand”. If you’re at all considering seeing this so called “Best Bar in the World”, go once for posterity, and never go again (accept if, like the London Lamppost editor, you have a taste for very dry Manhattans).
The real American Bar in London, as far as I’m concerned, is at the Stafford Hotel: With its own courtyard just off of St James Street, and located amidst London’s swankiest hotels and members clubs it is hard to find a better situated bar anywhere in the UK.
The term “American Bar” became wide spread in the early 20th century as trans-Atlantic travel to London become “a la mode” for well-heeled Americans. They brought with them a taste for cocktails and money to spend, so thus American Bars (in name or function) began opening in all the grand hotels of London.
Although the Savoy is decidedly on a grander scale, The Stafford has an undeniable charm and has not suffered from the slow degradation of clientele that the Savoy has. The Stafford is an experience in so much that you go there to be part of the institution and the atmosphere. The cocktails are fantastic (I recommend the Bloody Mary) and the wine list very good (predictably expensive though); but as far as I’m concerned, they are just enhancements to the overall environment.
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The first thing that hits you when you walk into the cobblestone courtyard is the scent of rich cigar tobacco, no matter what time of year. Being one of the few bars in central London with a proper courtyard, and just around the corner from Davidoff, Dunhill, and JJ Fox, it is arguably the best place in London to have the bar.
When you walk into the unassuming door to the main bar itself, it becomes instantly clear why it really is the American Bar. From the modern Mad Men esq bar, to the signed pictures of actors, baseball caps, college standards, model airplanes, American football helmets, pictures of American politicians and so on off to the right, it is a distinctly unique and distinctly American bar.
What is unique about this particularly American bar is that the kitsch heightens the sense of rarefied atmosphere rather than turn the bar into a joke. It is comparable to Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in this respect. It becomes, conversely, a feature of its elegance.
Although, unlike Harry’s which can be somewhat rough and ready, service at the Stafford tends to be very good. When it is quite busy though, this can slow down, but it isn’t the type of place you go for a quick drink anyway.
This is probably helped by the sort of clientele that inhabit the Stafford. It is a rarefied atmosphere to say the least: think suede loafers, blue blazers and Hermés scarves, worn by travelled people of particular taste. This is enhanced by the lack of tourists: although hardly a secret, The Stafford is very much a “in the know” kind of establishment.
It is for these reasons I would argue this is probably the best bar in London, but you’ll have to find out for yourself.
The American Bar at The Stafford
Entrance via Blue Ball Court off St. James’s Street