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Bask in history at the Stafford’s American Bar.

by Rajul on December 22, 2010

The American Bar at the Stafford has a wealth of memorabilia that commemorates the "special relationship" between the United Kingdom and USA

Many hotels these days are trendy ultra-modern affairs, for which the phrase ‘style over substance’ could have been invented.

Not so the Stafford Hotel’s American Bar, which wears its history on its sleeves or rather hangs it on its walls.  Here you can find a bewildering array of memorabilia, signed celebrity photos and other curios donated by satisfied past guests of this luxury hotel.

Yet when you look beyond the surface of these interesting knick knacks, you’ll find an even greater depth of place and a history to become immersed in.  It’s definitely more than a conventional bar as we alluded to in a previous visit after the Stafford’s Pub Talk.

I recently revisited this shrine to transatlantic friendship with Tom from the excellent Tired of London blog.  We shared a drink or two and pondered our traditional and yet wonderfully-relaxed surroundings (though do bear in mind that jackets are required for men).  Prices are expensive but not out of kilter with other bars nestled inside exclusive London hotels.

To whet our appetites for the evening, we first took a guided candlelit tour of the Stafford’s spectacular 360 year old wine cellar – one of the reasons why this may be the perfect London hotel for wine enthusiasts.

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Hotel guests can request a candlelit tour of the Stafford's centuries-old wine cellar which contains 20,000 bottles of wine and was once a bomb shelter

The name of the American Bar itself derives from a time in the 1930s when the first mass influx of American tourists came ashore from luxury liners crossing the Atlantic.  Keen to develop a trans-Atlantic appeal, many hotels in the West End began broadening their horizons – and their cocktail menus – to ensure that they catered for the tastes of this lucrative market.

Many went as far as renaming their bars to reflect this, and the Stafford (along with the renovated Savoy) has retained this name ever since.

Despite these American influences, perhaps the greatest influences to the Stafford’s American Bar have come from just over the Channel.  In the 1940s the hotel was run by Louis Burdet, who had been one of the top leaders of the French Resistance during World War 2.  Head barman Louis Crozet and his assistant Charles Guano (who would later take over the position and served there for 42 years until his death) were also French.

To preserve this odd Anglo-French-American mix, Monsieur Burdet decreed that the head barman at the American Bar should be French – and though this edict is not always strictly adhered to, it has been mostly obeyed including with current incumbent Mr Benoit Provost.

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More memorabilia at the American Bar courtesy of Tom from the Tired of London blog (image link below)

It was Charles Guano who began the bar’s unique collection of historical memorabilia, when he was given a carving of an American Eagle by a guest from the US, and later a model Eskimo by a Canadian visitor.  The trend continued and today the bar contains a treasure trove of miscellanies from around the world that have arrived in this fashion.

Highlights include:

  • Signed photos of famous actors and entertainers who have stayed at the Stafford
  • Original paintings by Richard Downer
  • A collage of all the living holders of the Victoria Cross
  • Glasses used by members of the Royal Family
  • Wartime food rationing certificates held by The Stafford
  • A photo of the Spitfire MK IX, signed by three famous Spitfire pilots
  • Model planes donated by the makers of the actual planes
  • A crocodile skull

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My partner in crime for the evening Tom has written a blog post about the American Bar and you can also check out some good pics (and that all-important drinks’ price list) on the Stafford London’s website.

Finally, do check out the other London hotel bars that make our exclusive shortlist of the top 10 London hotel bars and discover other gems in the LondonTown.com lowdown of the best London hotel bars.

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Photo credits: The Stafford London (Kempinski), Tired of London blog, Tired of London’s photostream.

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