Before Covid-19 took hold in the UK, we headed to one of 2020’s most anticipated openings, Great Scotland Yard Hotel. What we found inside doesn’t hide from its drama-filled past. Millie Milliken meets bars manager Michal Maziarz
When Shirley Pitts died in 1992, she was buried in a £5,000 Zandra Rhodes dress. She allegedly stole it from Harrods for the very occasion. Pitts was a member of the 40 Elephants, an all-female crime syndicate from Elephant & Castle that ran from the 18th until the 20th century, famed for foiling members of the Metropolitan Police at nearly every turn.
The gang has also given its name to the main bar at the recently opened Great Scotland Yard Hotel, the new incarnation of what was the former Metropolitan Police headquarters and Ministry of Defence building in Westminster. Refurbed to the tune of £50m the hotel houses 152 bedrooms, The Yard restaurant in which revered chef Robin Gill is rattling the pans, and a clutch of destination bars, including The 40 Elephants.
It’s been a long-time coming: the keys were handed over to new owners The Hyatt Unbound Collection in 2015. Five years later and I’m standing in its shiny new entrance, surrounded by memorabilia – from judges’ wigs to truncheons.
On the bill
With such a bold opening must come an equally bold leader: enter Michal Maziarz. The venue’s bars manager could be mistaken for coming with the keys: his handlebar moustache, three-piece tweed and pocket watch make him exude ‘Sherlock-chic’. He has been in charge of overseeing the hotel’s drinking spots alongside the Gorgeous Group and bartender-turned-consultant Julian de Féral.
Before his current appointment, Maziarz spent time as head bartender for Four Seasons’ Trinity Square, as well as Mayfair’s Novikov restaurant and bar. Assembling a supporting team for this operation was not an easy task though. ‘Building the team was a tough process, because of the delay,’ Maziarz exhales.
His first appointments were head bartenders Alex Williams (now Smeaton's Gin brand ambassador and previously seen swinging lampshades and shaking cocktails at London Cocktail Club, Discount Suit Company and Gridiron at Como Metropolitan under the Venning brothers), Sara Mlynarchik (from the Scotch Whisky Society) and Marcos Colunga (back in London after opening the Barcelona Edition hotel).
‘I was lucky to get them relatively early on. They’re three different characters who each contribute in a slightly different way.’
In the room
As soon as guests walk through the great green entrance doors of the hotel (ref:Sherlock Holmes) they’ll spot The 40 Elephants, the all-day bar at the centre of the venue.
It screams ‘five-star hotel’ but with nods to the building’s past, including glass-topped central tables revealing both original and reproduction artefacts, and an eye-catching central chandelier comprising 40 shards of smashed glass – a nod to the thieves’ devotion to the ‘smash-and-grab’ technique.
With such a bold opening must come an equally bold leader: enter Michal Maziarz
The menu is split into three sections. Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks is a tribute to the book of the same name written by William Terrington and published in 1869. De Féral was behind the push for including cups on the menu (it’s what Londoners would have been drinking at the time the women were
notorious) and the clever punch bowls on the bar have been designed to keep liquids cold without ice (or dilution) in the summer, or hot in the winter.
A Queens’ section on the list honours the leaders of the gang and the third section, entitled Detective Stories, comprises low- and no-abv serves based on the detectives who tried to foil the gang. The serves are predominantly winedriven with spirits used as just an accent – the rationale for this being the Victorians’ heavy use of fortifi ed wines. One of the best examples is the 40 Elephant’s Cup (served to hotel guests on arrival) which comprises sweet white port, Hepple gin, cassis and Pinot Noir – the last ingredient gives this dainty serve an unexpected edge.
What also characterises The 40 Elephants’ drinks is the inclusion of some relatively unknown ingredients. In The Queens’ section, Handsome Polly mixes mango wine with Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto Liqueur and Ysabel Regina brandy. ‘I discovered [the mango wine] completely by accident,’ says Maziarz. ‘It’s a fermentation of 50% mango and 50% Chenin Blanc.’ It’s an absolute triumph.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing ingredients across all of the menus is the Laphroaig vinegar, which can be found in the no-abv Lady Sherlock alongside dates, peach and jasmine soda. It’s one of this imbiber’s favourite drinks on our visit and the best no-abv serve I’ve had since no/low got serious. Of course, the process of making such a wellrounded and flavoursome ingredient is not easy: ‘It’s not very cost effective – we use three whole bottles of Laphroaig to make just two bottles of vinegar,’ admits Maziarz.
If it’s a proper dram guests are after though, they’ll find it at the hotel’s other bar, Sibin. Meaning ‘illicit drink’ in Gaelic, the bar is hidden behind a faux bookcase just off the hotel entrance. It’s not a secret bar though: ‘There is no password, there is no difficulty getting in.’ Inside, soft furnishings and a wave-like ceiling made with softly lit bottles off set a brutal-looking central bar.
When a whisky bar was originally briefed, they were few and far between. With the dawn of the likes of Sexy Fish and Black Rock though, it was obvious a change would have to be made. What has resulted is a menu completely devoid of countries and regions. Instead, it is split into pairings, cocktails and flights in the first half, and a list of whiskies in the second.
The presentation of the latter half is particularly interesting. ‘For true beginners, flavour profiles can be really confusing,’ Maziarz comments. ‘We decided to go in a different direction and divide whiskies by occasion.’
Lady Sherlock is... the best no-abv serve I've had since no/low got serious
At the bottom end, Daily Drams all cost the same to eliminate economic bias, while at the upper end, Occasional Evening-Wear prices rare whiskies reasonably, but limits each drinker to a double serve each and no more. The prices are also listed on the left side of the menu, to eliminate cost being the first factor when choosing, and flavour is indicated with smoke level and wood influence.
Real whisky lovers will be excited by the Poitín, New Make, and White Dog menus too – a brave but brilliant decision for a hotel bar.
The team’s approach to its whisky cocktails is refreshing as well, taking the traditional approach and ‘messing it up a little’. On the Classics menu, the Highball using Mack by Mackmyra Swedish Single Malt, water and banana is something of which Maziarz is particularly proud.
The Antagonists menu is perhaps more adventurous. It starts with a Smokey Cokey, which on paper reads much like the oft-berated whisky and coke. This serve is anything but. ‘Someone suggested we might want to use cherry coke but I thought why don’t we just make sherry coke?’ The drink, combining Lagavulin 16yo Single Malt Scotch, coke, PX and buckwheat tea is, interestingly, mostly ordered by guests from the trade.
Another stand out is the fun and delicious Clear Conscience, an English milk punch created by head bartender Alex Williams and made using Bán Pot Still Irish Poitín, Cocio dark chocolate milk, Branca Menta and barley miso, and garnished with a Mint Matchmaker. The bright blue Corpse Reviver may come as a surprise in a serious whisky joint too.
We’d be remiss not to mention the cocktail flights, which take a sidestep from the usual vertical or horizontal tasting format. The Cougar Flight is so named because it entails aging the same cocktail in three different barrels, while the Old vs New fl ight presents two sample-sized cocktails with products bottled 50 years apart. Clever, eh?
As well as his whisky expertise, Maziarz has a special interest in tea – an interest he has been able to flex in The Parlour. This relaxed space acts as the lounge area for guests and features regularly changing tea menus. Its main purpose is to celebrate British tipples (by way of India) such as brewed-at-the-bar tea – supplied by the Rare Tea Company – and gin and tonics.
With the first guests just coming through the doors, Maziarz and his team will no doubt be intrigued to see how some of their more adventurous serves are received. We think they’d be criminal not to love them.
This article was first published in Imbibe Spring 2020