Voltaire, London

Voltaire champagneA glamorous new destination bar serving champagne and cocktails has been created at a hotel in the City of London

Until this year, a line of low vaulted rooms hidden behind the bar at the Crowne Plaza hotel in the City of London was used just for storage. Now, as part of a major refurbishment, they have been opened up and turned into intimate semi-private rooms with luxurious seating, silk furnishings and their own mini sound systems. The Vaults are signature features of Voltaire, the glamorous new champagne and cocktail bar that has replaced the former Nineteen Below.

The Grade II listed building was once a bank, with the vaults originally used to store money and other treasures. Dating back only a century, it is in the historic area of Blackfriars on the site of Henry VIII’s Bridewell Palace which later became a notorious prison. The bar’s new name is both a pun on “vault” and a tribute to the 18th-century French philosopher who lived in exile in London.

Another French export, champagne, is the mainstay of the drinks list, including the capital’s most comprehensive selection of Pommery, from half bottles up to nine-litre salmanazars. These are displayed in the Pommery Library, a corner lounge area with banquettes and tables suitable for private hire. It leads to an outside terrace with silken awnings and outdoor chandeliers, where guests can enjoy the wide choice of cigars from the humidor.

Many of the cocktails have been designed for Pommery, such as the Cherry Picked, made with cherry brandy, cherry-infused wine Visciolata del Cardinale, homemade basil syrup and champagne, and the Pomme-Colada, which combines Pommery with Koko Kanu coconut rum, pineapple and fresh lemon. The Pommery Bar, for up to 10 people, mixes Gin Mare, tobacco liqueur, strawberry liqueur, mint sugar and a bottle of Pommery, priced £150.

The menu has been devised by head bartender Joel Lawrence, who was most recently consulting general manager at Potion in Fitzrovia. Previously, he was food and beverage manager at London’s No Ten Manchester Street Hotel and bar manager at St James Hotel & Club in Mayfair. The cocktails, costing from £10 to £14, include twisted classics such as a New Fashioned using Maker’s Mark bourbon, homemade cinnamon syrup and orange bitters.

They have also created a list of “R ‘n’ R Spa Cocktails” in association with luxury skincare range Temple Spa. Featuring herbs and spices tying in with the products, they are served with a free sample to take away. Cocktails include the Repose, a blend of vodka, Cointreau, camomile, lavender and lemon, served with Repose Aromatherapy Resting Cream, and the Aaahhh, combining Gin Mare, thyme, rosemary sugar, lemon and grapefruit juice, delivered with Temple Spa’s Aaahhh Soothing Balm.

The bar stocks a wide choice of spirits and liqueurs plus a select wine list and draught and bottled beers including Meantime Ale and Peroni Nastro Azzurro. Bar food ranges from sharing platters to small bites such as onion rings with wasabi mayo and wild boar scotch eggs with beetroot and vine tomato.

The venue has been designed by Sue Wheldon, part of The Brand Architects collective, who also worked on bedrooms and corridors as part of the £2million refurbishment of the rest of the hotel in 2010. She says the aim was to create a destination bar that would appeal to women and men of all ages. “Previously, the bar was a bit of a hidden secret for people who live and work in the area but we wanted it to be a bar in its own right as well as being part of the hotel,” she says. An entrance on New Bridge Street has been upgraded to the main entrance so people no longer have to go through the hotel lobby.

Lined with intimate booths, the colour palette of the main bar is monochrome with splashes of accent colours which Sue says are inspired by the symbols of luxury: champagne, caviar and cigars. “It is now a really glamorous destination in the City, not just for men but for women too,” she adds. “Despite the doom and gloom, the reality is that everybody likes a bit of luxury in their lives.”

Voltaire, Crowne Plaza London The City, 19 New Bridge Street, London EC4V 6DB
Tel. 020 7438 8059

Voltaire Vaults

Who did it
Design: The Brand Architects
Contractor: Stroods
Furniture: Nova Interiors, Kesterport
Soft furnishings: Concept Furnishings
Fibre optic lighting: Universal Fibre Optics

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Bar magazine.

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