Horse play: the new Equus cocktail bar

The network of streets between Embankment tube station and the Houses of Parliament have always been a handsome but desolate part of central London. Last year saw the redevelopment of the former 19th-century Victoria hotel into 8 Northumberland Avenue, a venue that includes Boyd’s Brasserie & Bar. Behind this is the new five-star Corinthia Hotel with its music-inspired cocktail bar Bassoon, and across the road is the refurbished five-star Royal Horseguards Hotel, which brings us the new Equus bar with cocktails created by top mixologist Andy Pearson.

The hotel is in a Grade I listed building that started life as luxury flats in the late 19th century, modelled on a French chateau and once nicknamed Fairyland because of its fairytale appearance. It has been a hotel since 1971 but underwent a £16.3million revamp after Guoman Hotels took over in 2008. The latest change was to move its bar from a small unremarkable lounge area into two former meeting rooms to create the stylish Equus – Latin for horse.

The interior, created by Lorna Griffiths of STS Design, is styled with deep crushed-velvet reds, chain-mail gold and period oil paintings to reflect the building’s past. Different fabrics in leather, chenille and rich weaves provide a luxurious touch, with illuminated carved glass panels displaying rare cognacs and malt whiskies.

The bar is headed by Neil Millington, most recently bar manager at the Globe Bar at the Chiswick Moran Hotel in Chiswick, south-west London. Before that, he was at bar and cigar lounge La Casa Del Habana in Soho. The bartending team also includes Renato Shkurti, formerly at the Connaught bar, Adrian Murfin and Simona Buivide, who took me through the fantastic cocktail list when I visited. Neil worked with Andy Pearson of consultancy Intoxicology to devise a drinks list of classic cocktails plus original creations inspired by the area’s history, many using ingredients made or infused in-house.

The building was used by the Ministry of Defence, including MI5 and MI6, during both world wars and was visited over the years by high-profile guests such as George Bernard Shaw, Lord Kitchener, Winston Churchill and William Gladstone. The signature cocktails therefore include the Churchill (pictured), which is made with tobacco-infused Maker’s Mark bourbon, Laphroaig whisky, homemade tobacco syrup and Angostura Bitters. The ingredients are stirred with ice but, before making the drink, the glass is turned upside down on a smoking cigar end to add a smoky coating. With the outdoor terrace in another part of the hotel next to the restaurant, this is the nearest guests will get to a smoke without going out into the street.

The Churchill
The George Bernard Shaw cocktail is made with gin, Campari and Cherry Heering liqueur, served on the rocks – a serve inspired by his 1933 political comedy On the Rocks. The Gladstone, named after the prime minister who laid the foundation stone in 1884, is made with American rye whiskey, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth and bitters. The lubriciously named Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming is named after the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, when it was based on the eighth floor of the building during World War I. It combines Scotch whisky, quince liqueur, fresh lemon and whisky barrel-aged bitters.

New creations include the masculine Calvary cocktail, a rich mix of ruby port, cognac, Grand Marnier and red burgundy, reflecting the hotel’s links with the Household Cavalry. The house punch – inspired by David Wondrich’s book on the subject – is a mix of Ketel One vodka, a dash of Zacapa rum, home-made lemon and orange sugar, pressed orange and lemon juice, a splash of mineral water and freshly grated nutmeg.

The menu also has a “perfect partners” section recommending simple serves using premium products, such as Ciroc vodka lengthened with white grape juice and soda or Pierre Ferrand Ambre cognac matched with ginger beer and a squeeze of lime. Alongside the strong selection of spirits and wines, there are some boutique beers and ciders such as Meantime Pale Ale, Chalky’s Bark from Sharps Brewery and Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12-year-old ale.

Open until 1am, Equus is accessed both via the lobby and a new separate entrance onto the street, which is within spitting distance of the offices of Whitehall. With its luxurious gentleman’s club-like feel and premium drinks, the bar is once again becoming the haunt of the great and the good.

Equus, Royal Horseguards Hotel, 2 Whitehall Court, London SW1A 2EJ Tel: 0871 376 9033

Previous Death becomes her: The Baby Bathhouse
Next Smack bites: the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards