Corinthia Hotel’s Bassoon Bar used to be cool. No really – while you may not have heard it mentioned alongside London’s other top hotel bars such as the Artesian, the Connaught, the American Bar or Dandelyan in the past few years, there was a time when it was known as one of the capital’s top drinking destinations.
But then the Bassoon Bar was forgotten as London’s scene charged on in its unquenchable thirst for the new, the modern and the different.
The Corinthia is now set to be back on the capital’s drinking map as the combined might of Marcis Dzelzainis, who helped launch Satan’s Whiskers and Dandelyan, and Michael Sager, owner of both London Sager + Wilde venues, transform its drinks, music and style of service.
‘Hotels are changing. Tastes are changing. The notion of luxury is changing as well – it’s about carefully sourced products, not the price tag. That’s something that Sager + Wilde does well,’ Marcis Dzelzainis told Imbibe.
They've stripped down the back bar, completely changed the music and installed a new drinks menu, based on classic New Orleans cocktails.
‘Music gives a bar its identity – it’s almost where I start from and allow it to inform the drinks,’ said Dzelzainis. ‘I went back through all the eras and styles of jazz, but I just can’t see it working here.’
Dzelzainis is well-known in the industry for creating incredible playlists and understanding what music a space requires, from the original hiphop soundtrack at Satan’s Whiskers to the classic 70s and 80s tunes that married with Dandelyan’s boundary-pushing menu. For the Basson Bar, inspired by a recent trip to Stockholm, he’ll be playing classic funk and soul.
‘It just clicked that it would be the perfect music – it’s timeless, cool, sophisticated and interesting.’
Building out from that base, the playlists will use funk and soul as the core reference and incorporate genres such as RnB and even Brazilian house music. Which means the bar’s current shape, with its built in piano, will be switched for proper decks.
As for the drinks menu, Dzelzainis says he turned back to that original 1920s jazz vibe, but kept his new playlist in mind.
‘I went back to the source material for this bar, which is 1920s jazz and NOLA, and thought what would a bartender from NOLA in that era make if they were transported here? What flavours and techniques would they use? So the drinks are rooted in those classic NOLA cocktails, but twisted for the modern palate,’ said Dzelzainis.
Guests can expect to see an experimental list using Dzelzainis’ talent for tinkering with homemade syrups, shrubs and vinegars, although he ultimately describes the drinks as ‘reassuring’. Think a Sazerac amplified or a Ramos with fresh flavours underpinning its texture. What may surprise you though is these drinks will not be coming at usual hotel prices.
‘This isn’t the Connaught or the Savoy, who have earned the right to charge £22 a drink,’ Dzelzainis said. ‘The starting point is around £12.50. That was the starting point for drinks when we opened Dandelyan and even then that was disruptive.’
To help bring that sense of intimate interaction, Dzelzainis and Sager have brought in Josh Joyce as head bartender to the Bassoon Bar.
‘It’s great to have Josh on board – there’s a warmness to his service and his ability to execute it, alongside great drinks from his time at the Beaufort Bar, Satan’s Whiskers and now here. His warmth transcends a certain bar’s style,’ said Dzelzainis.
All of London’s iconic hotel bars have had their era of soul searching. From the re-launch of The American bar back in 2010 to the Artesian – which launched its new menu under Remy Savage and Anna Sebastian on 8 May this year – all the greats have had to rethink their space, identity and drinks. So here's to hoping this relaunch will see the Bassoon Bar and Northall Bar reclaim their spot alongside London’s best bars.