Liquid history: Salvatore at Playboy

Salvatore Calabrese at his bar, Salvatore at Playboy
A warm glow of nostalgia and glamour surrounds the Playboy Club name. In this age of lapdancing clubs and internet porn, there is something almost innocent about Hugh Hefner’s Playboy empire that spread across the US in the 1960s and, at its peak, had 30 clubs around the world. A new American TV drama series set in 1963 debuts in the US in September, which will no doubt add to the myth and help to further revive a brand that went into decline in the 1980s. One of the most successful clubs was in London, but it lost its gambling licence in 1981 at a time when the clubs were under fire from the women’s movement. Thirty years later, London Clubs International has brought it back with a two-storey casino in Old Park Lane in London in the former Rendezvous club – close to its original home – complete with bunny girls and a cocktail bar under the “Maestro” himself, Salvatore Calabrese (pictured).

Cottontail Lounge
The club has been designed by leading practice Jestico & Whiles with a mix of classic and contemporary designs said to “mediate between tradition and innovation”. In this way, it aims to retain the “timeless opulence” of the Playboy experience but interpret and tailor it to modern-day London.

On the ground floor is the Cottontail Lounge, a sumptuous nightclub that is open only Fridays and Saturdays, featuring its own bar, luxurious banquette seating, spectacular LED lighting effects and a rich palette of golds and reds. Upstairs is the Players bar, a stylish area with its own bar, deep armchairs and three large plasma screens showing sport. Next to this is the main gaming room and a small restaurant, serving up classic dishes and modern comfort food devised by executive chef Judy Joo. Beyond this is Gentlemen’s Tonic, a contemporary barbershop and grooming salon, and a smart outside terrace.

Players Bar
But the main attraction for cocktail lovers is Salvatore at Playboy, the ground-floor bar designed by the Maestro with Jestico & Whiles. Salvatore Calabrese has built up a worldwide reputation running the bar at Duke’s Hotel in St James’s, the Library Bar at the Lanesborough and, most recently, Salvatore at Fifty.

At his new bar, he has continued his exploration of what he calls “liquid history”, having collected together rare spirits and liqueurs, such as cognacs and whiskies. “I have sought out vintage products as close to the originals that I could find, to give a thorough taste of cocktail history,” he tells me. “It’s not just about bringing a bottle to the table that costs £2,000 but giving them a piece of history they will not have again for the rest of their life.” His collection is displayed on honeycomb-shaped shelves in the bar and, alongside his fantastic list of classics and his own creations, the menu has two pages of drinks using these vintage products. They include a Sazerac – costing £2,000 – made with cognac Sazerac de Forge et fils from 1805, when the cocktail was made with brandy rather than rye whiskey.

Salvatore Calabrese and his team
The bar’s interior has patterns and furniture that recall 1960s styles but with contemporary touches. “It’s about bringing back the Playboy Club but with 2011 style,” Salvatore explains. At Playboy, you can see some of the new tools he has created to help make better cocktails, such as a shaker, a barspoon, and a “Mojito Spoon” with a ball on the end for gently muddling leaves rather than crushing them – all available from Urban Bar. He also has his own exclusive red and white wines from Rocca della Macie in Tuscany.

Working with Cantilever Bars, Salvatore has enhanced the Calabrese Sink which they launched four years ago, adding new features such as an ice station with changeable dividers and refrigerated garnish drawers. The bar’s stations stick to Salvatore’s rule that, with only one step in each direction, a bartender can reach everything. “The bartender should not have to search for anything he needs,” Salvatore says. “I wish that other bars were the same as many other bartenders would be much happier. I believe if your bartenders are happy, your customers will be happy.”

Salvatore at Playboy, 14 Old Park Lane, London, W1K 1ND Tel: 020 7491 8586

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