Unlock the Doors to the World’s Most Exceptional Spirits

Food & Drink

Rare Vintage Cocktails at The Donovan Bar

As you browse through Sir Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel, Casino Royale, you soon reach the moment when the inimitable James Bond asks the bartender to pour him ‘three measures of Gordon's gin, one of vodka and half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.’

The drink has been immortalised as a Vesper Martini, named after original Bond girl and Russian spy Vesper Lynd. Nowadays, an authentic serving is exceptionally tricky to come by, as only a handful of bars around the world still stock Kina Lillet, a bitter-tasting liqueur combining white wine, fruit liqueurs and quinine, which ceased production at the end of the swinging 60’s.

Yet lo and behold, the cocktail Maestro, Salvatore Calabrese, former President of the United Kingdom Bartender’s Guild and renowned as one of the world’s leading bartenders, has tracked down a bottle of 1949 Kina Lillet, along with an original bottle of Smirnoff Vodka from the 1950’s. Famous for his best-in-class Dry Martini, Salvatore has scoured auction houses for more than 35 years to seek out the world’s oldest and most precious spirits and the result is a truly astonishing library of ‘Liquid History’ housed in an exquisite vintage cabinet in Mayfair’s iconic Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel.

Step through the sleek doors of The Donovan Bar into a world of 1960’s glamour surrounded by black and white photographs by the one and only Terence Donovan. This is one of London’s oldest cocktail bars, launched by renowned mixologist, the great Harry Craddock, who was lured out of retirement in 1947 and brought with him some of his best-loved recipes. Named ‘a blessed retreat’ by celebrated drinker Mark Twain, Brown’s Hotel has long had a strong literary association, which is celebrated in the Donovan Bar menu.

Salvatore Calabrese has curated an extraordinary Vintage Cocktails list using his own personal collection of historic spirits dating back to the early 1900s, safely ensconced behind lock and key in The Donovan Bar’s vintage cabinet for guests to explore upon request.

There is nothing quite like sipping a White Lady made with original Gordons gin and Cointreau circa 1930, served using original shakers and glasses. Alternatively, take a sip of Old McBrayer, an American whiskey popular in prohibition America from 1919-1933, where alcohol consumption was forbidden except for medicinal use. Doctors would stock bottles of Old McBrayer in their pharmacies and administer ‘whiskey-based prescriptions’ as a way to keep spirits high. At the end of the 1920’s, it’s rumoured that Churchill went to America with a prescription from an English doctor to enjoy a couple of shots of whiskey a day.

Lovers of Malt Whisky will revel in the story of the Suntory distillery, where 60 limited edition bottles were made to celebrate 60 years of production. The whisky was never marketed and was simply created as a gift for the most influential people in the world. Among these were Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Maestro, Salvatore Calabrese.

If you wish to try real cognac, made from original French grapes from the Cognac region before 1860, you will find a rare collection of bottles in the Donovan Bar vintage cabinet. Most notable is a special bottle from 1788, which predates the French revolution and is one of the oldest cognacs in the world. Following the great French wine blight of the 1860s, cognac was made using imported Trebbiano grapes, which had the same acidity as the original grape used in Cognac. The name was changed from Trebbiano to UNIBLANC so that it sounded French, rather than Italian, and the distillation of cognac resumed.

The crowning glory of the Vintage Cocktails menu is Salvatore’s Legacy, the world’s oldest cocktail. Made using the vintage cabinet’s oldest spirit, the 1788 Clos de Griffier Vieux cognac, Dubb Orange liqueur (c1860) and a dash of Angostura Bitters (c1930), this original creation of Salvatore’s offers more than 700 years of history at £5,500.

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