When it comes to cocktails, Simon Ford is the guy to know. After earning a Wine and Spirits Education Certificate in the UK, he went on to work for Seagrams and now holds the heady title of Global Spirits & Cocktail Brand Expert for Pernod Ricard USA. For real, it’s on his business card. In Simon’s weekly column, Drink Ford Tough, he tells you everything you ever needed to know about the art of the cocktail. And how to drink better.
I returned from London only a few days ago and can eagerly report that there is vibrant excitement surrounding the Olympic Games. I was in town doing a talk for the Imbibe Bar Show and also showed some competition-winning bartenders around the Plymouth Gin distillery. Great times for all. Following the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June, the country has turned its full attention to the upcoming Games. British flags are visible everywhere throughout the capital city, and stages honoring different continents’ music have already been built up and down the River Thames.
The food and spirits industries have openly embraced the opportunity to promote the Games. A large Union Jack now graces bottles of Pimm’s, and Beefeater has just released a special London edition. Beer bottles throughout the country proudly display the country’s colors in the weeks leading up to the international event, while Copenhagen institution Noma will open a concept restaurant at the Claridge’s, serving prix-fixe lunch and dinner exclusively for the week of July 28 – August 6.
The city’s nightlife figures to once again be at the forefront of discussion, with thousands of visitors from all corners of the globe set to join the festivities. So allow me to take the time to offer some recommendations on where to drink during this year’s Olympic Games. Yes, follow my lead.
There is truly no better way to celebrate London’s heritage than going to the pub. (See our guide to London’s proper boozers.) A term once virtually unknown, a “gastropub” refers to a bar that serves high-end beer and food. While there are currently thousands around the world, some of the finest remain in London, including The Eagle, considered by many to be the world’s first gastropub. Because ales do not travel well, the large majority of ones served are local, which is always a plus.
My personal favorite gastropub is Anchor & Hope, located in Waterloo. The no-frills setting is perfect to enjoy a pint of one of their real ales, along with some of their hearty local fare.
Continuing to touch on London’s storied ale tradition, be sure to check out Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London’s oldest pub. The pub has always been the favorite of many prominent writers, including Charles Dickens, after being rebuilt following the Great Fire of London of 1666. Go for any beers on tap from Samuel Smith, a North Yorkshire microbrewery that is one of the world’s oldest such establishments.
One place sure to gather a crowd during the Olympics is the White Horse in Parsons Green. I recall the bar crammed with revelers as I drank Pimm’s here during Wimbledon, and feel that this tradition will extend through the Games. Harveys Sussex Best and Jaipur IPA are available on tap from the Thornbridge Brewery in Derbyshire, and the extensive list of bottled beers features several American selections.
While it would be possible to speak solely about London’s real ale venues, much of the focus will be on cocktails. There is no finer bar establishment in the city than the American Bar at The Savoy Hotel, recently named World’s Best Hotel Bar at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. The White Lady and Hanky Panky cocktails have become synonymous with the bar. The White Lady contains dry gin and Cointreau shaken with lemon juice, while the latter cocktail is dry gin and Italian vermouth-based and was invented by the bar’s first female head bartender, Ada Coleman. The martinis have also been superbly made ever since Americans first flocked to the bar during the Prohibition Era, when their homeland’s bars were closed.
A more low-key cocktail bar is Happiness Forgets, located in Shoreditch. Along with Islington, this area of the city features several solid bar options and figures to receive an enormous amount of business because of its close proximity to the venues of the Games in Northeast London. Featuring a list of 11 cocktails (devised by Alastair Burgess, formerly of Milk & Honey) that changes every fortnight, the downstairs bar provides a cozy and relaxed vibe.
In Islington, I would recommend the Charles Lamb Pub. A winner of Imbibe Magazine’s Pub Personality Award, this friendly bar features great food and a solid wine list, including bottles from their own label to complement the European-only selections. This pub is a perfect place to unwind during those long Sunday afternoon lunches.
Visitors will undoubtedly get into the spirit of Great Britain and embrace gin, one of our two national spirits, along with one of our greatest national pastimes, the pub. Luckily, one can celebrate both at the Portobello Star in Notting Hill. Landlord Jake Burger was born to be a pub landlord, but found himself in the world of cocktails for a while. He combines both of his passions expertly here, and showcases his own created gin, Portobello Road Gin. The Ginstitute, a gin museum that gives visitors the chance to make their own gin, is located upstairs.
And now for that other national spirit…whisky! Already “closed on Sundays and Mondays due to Olympic maintenance,” restaurant and bar Albannach has an extensive whisky list comprising hundreds of malt, blended, and international bottles. Whisky flights allow imbibers to sample by region or age, or even create their own combinations.
Where to drink like Simon Ford in London:
The Eagle, 159 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3AL
Anchor & Hope, 36 The Cut, SE1 8LP
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BU
White Horse, 1-3 Parsons Green, SW6 4UL, whitehorsesw6.com
American Bar at The Savoy, The Strand, WC2R 0EU, fairmont.com/savoy-london/dining/americanbar
Happiness Forgets, 9 Hoxton Square, N1 6NU, happinessforgets.com
Charles Lamb Pub, 16 Elia Street, N1 8DE, thecharleslambpub.com
Portobello Star, 171 Portobello Road, W11 2DY, portobellostarbar.co.uk
Albannach, 66 Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DS, albannach.co.uk
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