We’ve seen taxidermy done to, er, death. But the huge fuck-off gazelle skeleton dressed in peacock feathers above the swirly marble bar at Fitzrovia’s Mandrake Hotel couldn’t fail to grab my attention. It’s a small part of what must be the most WTF decor in a London hotel bar (and there’s stiff competition). Parquet flooring, mirror-topped tables, floral-print chairs and an industrial ceiling defiantly clash, while jungle rumbles are piped in through speakers. Even the uniform confounds – there are waitresses in trousers with built-in cummerbunds. Yet it’s all part of the hotel’s ‘arty’ feel that attracts an international business crowd.
Despite those restrictive garms, staff were relaxed and approached our table with well-timed ease. And behind the stick is Walter Pintus who earned his stripes at the Connaught Bar. Here his menu follows suit with sophisticated cocktails using creative ingredients from lands as far-flung as the origin of the gazelle-cock (possibly). The Louisville Lip was a surprisingly zesty and light whisky cocktail with ‘pineapricot’ (pineapple and apricot) cordial. The Bloody Mandrake didn’t blow my sinuses, gently spiced and given a fancy kick by lobster essence.
There’s simplicity in an eight-long cocktail list, all drinks costing £14 (a fairly modest price tag in the hotel world, believe it or not). And if the decorative frenzy overwhelms, there’s refuge in a heated, open-air terrace by the bar with awnings for ill weather and tall tropical palms for extra shelter. Drinking here might just be London’s answer to sipping from coconuts on the beach.