Tucked away in a quiet Whitehall Court by the river Thames, the Equus bar in the Royal Horseguards hotel is a safe haven for overworked MPs, civil servants and, of course, those thirsty souls who just want to chill out and soak up the power of Westminster.
Just a few steps away from the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Horseguards was known as a ‘spy hotel’, since it served as a Secret Service headquarters during WWI.
Sitting down by the window overlooking the peaceful Whitehall Court on a sunny summer’s afternoon I imagine the hotel’s high profile guests such as Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, William Gladstone, Sir Mansfield-Cumming and a bunch of unnamed spies smoking cigars and debating foreign policy dramas, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand or supporting la résistance française.
The hotel owners created the Equus Bar with ‘the modern gent in mind’ and strived to preserve the atmosphere of a gentleman’s club. It does allow women in these days, thankfully, but Equus Bar’s interior of red velvet chairs, chain mail gold, heroic oil paintings, leather fabrics and the two huge silver horse heads reminded me of times when all important political moves were decided by men only in smoke filled members’ clubs.
To shake off this not very pleasant idea I decided to cheer myself up with the George Bernard Shaw Cocktail – Gin, Campari and Cheering Liqueur – served ‘On the Rocks’, per the title of Shaw’s 1933 play.
I did bring a gentleman friend to this gents’ bar, so Philip, who is a devoted Scotch lover, decided to pay tribute to the hotel’s most famous patron and ordered the Churchill Cocktail – Bourbon, aromatic bitters and homemade tobacco syrup.
Negroni is one of my favourite cocktails, so the George Bernard Shaw, which is made of two of the same liquors as Negroni (Gin & Campari) had a familiar, but sweeter taste and was very easy to drink.
Philip thought his cocktail was ‘out of the way’, especially enjoying the subtle taste of the tobacco syrup. Churchill was said to smoke at least 10 cigars a day, but with the smoking ban the cigar lovers who don’t want to venture outside will have to be satisfied with this drink only.
Equus bar has nothing to do with Peter Shaffer’s play where Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) scandalously took ALL of his clothes off, but gives tribute to cavalrymen. Part of the cost of the Cavalry Cocktail (ruby port, Cognac, Grand Marnier & red Burgundy) is passed on to charities supporting wounded soldiers.
This cocktail was created exclusively for the Royal Horseguards by mixologist Andy Pearson, but the charity part was enough for me to choose it as my second drink. Philip in the meantime continued with the history theme and chose the Sir Mansfield-Cumming Cocktail (Scotch, quince liqueur, fresh lemon & whiskey barrel aged bitters).
The Equus Bar’s Cavalry Cocktail is described as very masculine, and, MAN, it was! My gentleman’s friend choice, the cocktail named after the first director of the Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6), was full of surprises and not what he expected.
Philip thought it was a little too citrusy, but when our friend Beck joined us, she absolutely loved it and ordered one for herself without hesitation.
Philip and I finished the night with our most beloved cocktails – Classic Champagne (me) and Old Fashioned (him), which the Equus bar’s barman had no problem mixing up. We did feel quite merry after our few drinks, and influenced by the political power all around us started plotting world dominance until it was time to go home…
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