London is rich with great hotel bars, stylish and inviting — The American Bar at The Stafford (and the one at The Beaumont), Artesian at The Langham, the Punch Room at The Edition, the Blue Bar at The Berkeley, etc., etc. — but one of the most stylish of all, and arguably the most singular, is the Bassoon Bar at the luxurious Corinthia Hotel, near Trafalgar Square.
The Bassoon Bar is a piano bar in the most literal possible sense: The back of the Roland grand piano at one end of the actual bar extends some 23 feet down the length of the room to become the bar. The regular pianist, Giusto Di Lallo, provides better-than-piano-bar offerings five nights a week from 6 to 8 p.m., and later in the evening a changing roster of jazz, blues, and pop artists performs (such luminaries as Lana Del Rey and the Scissor Sisters have been among them).
The room itself is glamorous, with plush leather chairs and banquettes, a swirl-patterned ceiling with art deco light fixtures, and walls hung with original Jazz Age-themed paintings from the early twentieth century by the South Carolina-born African-American artist William Johnson.
A bar menu offers such things as oysters, caviar, salt-and-pepper squid, a smoked and cured salmon plate, and a Josper-grilled burger with triple-cooked chips, and there is a selection of wines and Champagnes by the glass and bottle (including some very pricey ones; care for a bottle of Cristal Rosé for $1,400, or a 1995 Château Pétrus for $9,300?). The Scotch whisky list is admirable, balancing plenty of almost-affordable first-rate drams (Dalwhinnie 15-year-old at $18) with the obligatory — for an upscale London hotel — rarities (Laphroaig 30-year-old at $425). There are a number of good cognacs in a similar price range (the Pierre Ferrand Ambre 1er Cru at $19 is very nice), a smart rum selection, and plenty of gins from producers both world-famous and niche.
The amiable bartenders hand-chip their ice, squeeze fresh fruit juices, and make their own infusions and syrups. They know how to construct an impeccable martini (though stay away from the ill-considered "bubblegum martini," which is as silly as its name suggests) and such old-style classics as a Champagne cocktail (Grand Marnier, Rémy Martin cognac, and Champagne over a sugar cube soaked in Angostura Bitters).
The way to go here, though, in keeping with the jaunty retro feeling of the place, is with the "bespoke cocktails," original libations with a vintage feel, served in replicas of Queen Victoria's glassware. The Navy Faux Manhattan combines Wood's Old Navy Demerara Rum, Cocchi Vermouth, Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao, falernum liqueur (based on the spiced syrup of the same name), and bitters. The Ultimate Rum Old Fashioned is a bracing concoction of 23-year-old Zacapa rum, peppermint bitters, and Demerara sugar — not a replacement for the classic old fashioned, but a credible improvisation on it — just the thing for a jazzy, tasty watering hole like Bassoon Bar.