Christmas is coming in hot. During this busiest, booziest period of the year, it’s important to find the right venue to stave off the December chill and enjoy a stiff eye-opener. You might be wondering which cocktail lounges are the best candidates for festive season fortifcation. Well, for anyone looking for cosiness and craft in equal measure, you can’t go wrong with a certain spot on the fringe of Covent Garden and Holborn.
Since it opened doors at The Rosewood Hotel in 2014 as a kind of British analogue to the fabulous Bemelmans Bar in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Scarfes Bar has very much become an institution in its own right, going beyond finding its feet and becoming an unstoppable force of bartending brilliance, as well as a staple London stop-off for top-shelf atmosphere.
Ten years on and it’s possibly more iconic than ever. In 2023, Scarfes Bar earned pride of place on The World’s 50 Best Bars, barging in to capture number 41 on the illustrious, envy-invoking list. Helmed by area director of bars Martin Siska, head of mixology Yann Bouvignies and supported by a talented team, the cocktail game here is on point.
The current menu – ‘10’ – commemorates the bar’s decade of operation with a menu split between the ten cocktails that have defined Scarfes Bar since its opening (‘Greatest Hits’, as it’s billed on the menu), as well as ten new creations.
From the former, we were mesmerised by the Crescent City, a take on the Whisky Sour, which blends Macallan 12-year-old with discarded banana peel and pandan, the glass then rimmed with crystallised violet powder, as well as the El Bandito, a long drink of Ojo de Dios mezcal, Baldoria Verdant, thai basil and watermelon charged with CO2.
Our bartender was really jazzed about the Oui Madame From the ‘New Releases’ section of the menu, a bold take on that most undergraduate of cocktails: Sex on the Beach. In the hands of Scarfes Bar, it became another animal altogether. Grey Goose and St Germain are rounded out with clarified coconut milk, peach and jasmine wine to become a new classic.
How about that ambience? Drop in earlier in the day, say late afternoon, and it’s exactly what you want when the mercury is dropping. We’re talking a roaring fire, dusky lighting, and a library of 10,000 hand-selected antique books that channels both country house and private members’ club. Designed by Martin Brudnizki, it drips with velvet, mahogany and verdigrised globe chandeliers. As the evening unwinds, the vibe becomes increasingly animated, with high spirits dialled up with nightly jazz performances which kick off at 8pm. A grand piano flexes in the corner and drinkers have been known to jump on for impromptu gigs after the professionals hang up the gloves.
We’d be remiss not to mention the namesake artist here, Gerald Scarfe. A famous Great British cartoonist and caricaturist, he’s perhaps best known for his animation on Pink Floyd’s The Wall and for his work in The Sunday Times and New Yorker. Does anyone remember the Disney film Hercules? That was Scarfe’s handiwork, too. His art evinces the sense of creativity that you might associate with another Greek mythological figure, Dionysus: anarchic elements of sophistication, rakishness and staid Great British classiness all infuse and inform his paintings and sketches.
A grand piano flexes in the corner and drinkers have been known to jump on for impromptu gigs
It’s this spirit that we enjoy the most about Scarfes Bar, and which makes it the perfect option for a drink before or after dinner, a cosy afternoon, or perhaps even a misplaced evening, one that gets away from you.
Traditionally minded but not the type to stand on ceremony, whether you’re looking for a place to catch up with a friend you’ve not seen in 2023, looking to kick back with colleagues, or for a date-night pitstop that ticks every box, Scarfes Bar is devilishly dynamic. For a cocktail bar where you can eat, drink and - most importantly this time of year - be merry, point it to the Rosewood Hotel and its legendary lounge.