Great bars do more than make delicious concoctions—they design experiences. Few in the world do so as consistently well as Artesian Bar at the Langham Hotel in London.
Under the leadership of Alex Kratena and with the strong influence of assistant head bartender Simone Caporale, both of them winners of the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award for "International Bartender of the Year", Artesian has captured pretty much all of the best honors in the spirits world. The top shelf of their gorgeous back bar is now completely full of awards, including enough Spirited Award plates to serve a dinner party.
For sheer creative exuberance no one tops Artesian. Where other bars focus on the room and what's happening in the glass, Artesian doesn't stop there: they create an atmosphere around the glass involving all the senses and evoking emotions. They're neither afraid to get serious and abstract nor riotously silly.
Walking into the room you see everything you want a great hotel bar to have—exceptionally civilized surroundings with top-notch libations—but Artesian goes far beyond expectations and hopes to create delightful new experiences for even the most jaded of travelers.
We became fans on our first visit, but far from it being a flash in the pan, our respect and appreciation for the team's efforts has expanded with each subsequent time we've been able to return over the years. Much of that has to do with their willingness to continually push themselves to new heights.
Past menus have included drinks from the sweet to the savory, from the elegant to the whimsical, always incorporating more than the contents of the glass. On one past visit Dinah ordered the Forever Young, a 'Picture of Dorian Gray'-themed cocktail in honor of the story Oscar Wilde began while staying at the Langham. Yes, behind the mirror pierced by the straw, that is indeed a stick of incense, scented like Opium perfume. That same evening the finale was a most unusual presentation that was introduced to us with the warning, "A simple cocktail to finish the night ... Careful; that's a real machete." We're not sure how the purple telephone handset fit in thematically, but the tiki drink it connected to was delicious and perfectly balanced.
The current menu includes a cocktail with an aroma garnish presented in a clear, floating pillow, one which comes inside a giant gold pineapple, and another, adorned with larch needles and tiny pickled mushrooms, served in a curious round bowl that fills the hand with a comforting, meditative heft.
All this innovation is combined with a deep tradition of good hosting and that, too, continues to improve on each of our visits. Our latest, on what may be the most challenging night of the year: New Year's Eve, was another exceptional bar experience. We were accompanied by friends with their just-under-age daughter. To our delight, everyone was made to feel equally welcome and this courtesy extended to the menu. Non-alcoholic drinks were mixed amongst the spirited ones without distinction; no guest at Artesian need fear feeling second-class when their condition or preference dictates a zero-alcohol evening. In fact, as the evening progressed, our companion was able to confidently recommend one of her delicious choices to several of us at the table. It may seem like a small touch, but those are exactly what add up to a great night.
Best of all, the old Artesian team's whimsy remains in full force. At midnight confetti cannons fired from the bar, flanked by sparklers, and the assembled guests were joined by a giant, dancing panda bear. Now that's a New Year's Eve to remember!
We can't wait to see what happens next time we go.