Following a complete refurbishment by hotel guru Olga Polizzi and interior designer Inge Moore, Mayfair’s famous Brown’s Hotel reopened the
stunning Donovan Bar in spring this year.
With the addition of a separate entrance on Albemarle Street and its own doorman ready to welcome non-resident guests, there is now an exclusive menu from legendary drinks maestro Salvatore Calabrese.
Following the success of Calabrese’s December pop-up at the Donovan Bar, he has taken up residency with new and signature creations alongside a selection of vintage cocktails.
“A great bar should of course have a great range,” he says. “Behind our bar we have an incredible range of premium spirits from the modern age, as well as an extensive collection of vintage and rare spirits from my own personal collection that you will not find anywhere else.”
The Donovan Bar, at the Rocco Forte-owned hotel, has long been known as one of the most intimate and sophisticated drinking dens in the city, playing host to gatherings of the most glamorous faces of Mayfair’s elite fashion and art scene.
Taking inspiration from the bar’s namesake and close friend of the Forte family, the iconic 1960s photographer Sir Terence Donovan, Calabrese has created a list of 16 original cocktails divided into four sections: bright and refreshing High Exposure; dark and mellow Low Exposure; strong and bold High Contrast; and soft and delicate Low Contrast.
The bar will also play host to live music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, showcasing an eclectic mix of artists and creating a vibrant, speakeasy vibe.
The redesign of the Donovan Bar is the work of acclaimed interior designer Inge Moore, who has collaborated with Olga Polizzi, director of design for Rocco Forte Hotels, bringing new levels of glamour to the space, emphasising Terence Donovan’s reputation as one of the 20th century’s most revered fashion photographers and bringing to the fore the largest private collection of his work in existence, including a photograph of Lady Forte herself.
As well as an extensive refit of the interiors, the main bar now takes centre stage as you enter, and has doubled in size to seat eight people, while the space itself can hold up to 100.
The striking bar frames the original 19th century stained-glass window of St George as well as displaying the impressive collection of both vintage and non-vintage spirits, wines, champagnes and other tipples. Set to be the most sought-after seat in Mayfair, the ‘Naughty Corner’ has also been luxuriously revamped and offers an intimate, semi-private area for up to 12 people, amid some of the most iconic photography from Sir Terence.
But while the décor certainly sets the tone of the venue, it is the beverages that take centre stage.
“These days, spirits have become much more refined,” says Calabrese. “A master blender has so much more in their hand to allow them to create a great spirit, from expertise to market knowledge. And this means that bartenders can be more selective about what they choose to stock.
“A customer who walks into the Donovan Bar trusts my choices, and trusts I have chosen the right spirit for my cocktails. It is not just whatever whisky or gin or vodka I find on my back bar, or what is the cheapest, because a great cocktail is the spirits.”
Top hotels around the world are spending millions in creating the ideal drinking destination. One they will feel comfortable in, while also having the right experience. Nailing the spirits and cocktails on offer is central to that.
“Customers know what they want. Particularly in a hotel bar, I think because we often have a larger collection of spirits than some other bars, people are more intrigued, they want to experience something a bit different,” says Calabrese.
“This is an evolution of the last 10 years, but I have been selling rare and vintage spirits for the last 30, before anyone else really thought about it, and guests are definitely more engaged with this now than ever before.”
The struggle continues to be attracting guests who are not already residents within the hotel. There are sometimes barriers in the minds of non-residential guests, one being location within the hotel and two being price point. In its refurb, the Donavan Bar has looked to make itself more inviting by developing its own separate entrance away from the hotel reception; and Calabrese understands that hotel bars can be seen as pricey.
“Hotel bars in particular are often considered expensive, especially in Mayfair where we are, but that is not true,” he says. “You are able to come to the Donovan Bar and have whatever you want, and spend what you want.
“I always say many bars that you see today are created for bartenders by bartenders, you have to drink what that bartender wants you to.
“Specifically, with hotels, this won’t work. Often the bar can be the soul of the hotel, where a solo traveller can visit and not feel invisible. I tell my team that hospitality is one of the key things that makes a bar great, being warm and approachable, regardless of how much they want to spend or even if they want to drink at all.”
The key is that when customers do want to spend out, they are offered more than just the drink.
“When people come to us they are getting so much more. Somewhere like the Donovan Bar you are paying for amazing atmosphere, the history, five-star service and the theatre,” says Calabrese. “Curating a great selection of spirits is a huge part of this, and so is a great water offering, or juice, or bar snacks, so that customers know they can have what they want. It is an opportunity to make sure you are serving up the best experience for your customer.”
Donovan Bar Cocktail Highlights
Flower Power – Hendrick’s Gin re-distilled with rambutan, butterfly pea tea, lemon juice and lavender honey
Gran Torino – Johnnie Walker Gold Label Whisky, Riserva Speciale Martini Bitter, Martini Riserva Rubino, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, orange juice and Re’al ginger foam
Lady Forte – Don Julio Blanco Tequila distilled with timur pepper, blood orange and grapefruit juice, agave and Moët & Chandon Champagne
Naughty Corner – Bacardi white rum, white cacao liquor, Galliano liqueur, pineapple juice and fresh passion fruit, rimmed with cocoa butter and saffron