Trundling across the bar-room floor, laden with tinkling bottles of spirits, the cocktail trolley once looked cumbersome compared with the idea of an all-singing, all-shaking “mixologist”. But London’s drinkers are beginning to rediscover the cocktail trolley’s charms – there is showmanship, a sense of occasion, and the personal touch of having your drink made exactly as you like it.
To give weekend brunch a little kick, The Fable bar near St Paul’s wheels around an admirably well-stocked Bloody Mary trolley. It provides the clamato juice, celery salt, king prawns and other accoutrements so that you can make the drink to your own tastes. The breakfast menu includes the full “London Market Breakfast” or toast and pastries from Borough Market’s The Flour Station. Be warned that it fills up quickly on weekends.
Of all the city’s numerous speakeasy-style bars BYOC (Bring Your Own Cocktail) feels the most authentic. With only six tables, cocooned in a dimly lit Covent Garden cellar, it makes an ideal date place. You bring your own spirits and pay a flat fee for your table. The bartender then improvises a bespoke cocktail using whatever he has on his trolley. The fruit and vegetable mixers come from the juice bar upstairs, so freshness is guaranteed.
The grand dame of cocktail trolleys is found at the Connaught hotel bar, and there’s only one drink to order here: the martini. Slick barmen mix it at the table in their gleaming shakers, using offbeat bitters, including coriander, cardamom and ginger, and rich, oily Amalfi lemons, which they rub around the glass rim.
Other traditional trolleys can be found at Dukes, where Ian Fleming decided to make James Bond a martini drinker, and Soho institution Quo Vadis. Here the martinis glide over on an art deco-style trolley with a thoughtful selection of gin, including Xoriguer from Mallorca and Chase from Herefordshire.
A more recent addition comes courtesy of Italian cocktail supremo Salvatore Calabrese, who has been shaking cocktails in London since the 1970s. The decor at Salvatore’s Bar may be kitsch, but there is no denying the deliciousness of its speciality cocktails, such as the Spicy Fifty with chillis, elderflower and honey syrup. The cocktail trolley has a hidden freezer, so the drinks are always bracingly cold.
Olivia Williams is author of ‘Gin, Glorious Gin: How Mother’s Ruin Became the Spirit of London’, published by Headline on August 28.
The Fable, 52 Holborn Viaduct, EC1A 2FD.
BYOC, 28 Bedfordbury, WC2N 4BJ.
The Connaught, Carlos Place, W1K 2AL.
Dukes, St James’s Place, SW1A 1NY.
Quo Vadis, 26-29 Dean Street, W1D 3LL.
Salvatore’s Bar at the Playboy Club, 14 Old Park Lane, W1K 1ND.