This classy retro cocktail bar near Piccadilly Circus transports customers back to a simpler time, even if the prices remain alarmingly current.
Bar Américain is an offshoot of the sprawling, luxurious Brasserie Zédel, which can be found off Piccadilly Circus on Sherwood Street. Accessible through the marble and mirrored corridors of the Brasserie, and down an opulent carpeted staircase reminiscent of a pre-war theatre, the bar is dimly lit and deeply atmospheric. A tastefully retro aesthetic is readily apparent in the dark wood walls topped off with an aircraft motif, and thickset curtains which obscure some speakeasy-style frosted windows. Dark leather booths and padded chairs line the perimeter of the room, as well as the circular columns down the centre, while zebra pattern carpeting helps contribute to a hushed, reflective tone. The ostentatious bar is impressively decked out with glass, metal and gallons of spirits, and there is a slightly lighter side room, for private functions and gatherings.
With its cosy design and retro furniture, Bar Américain at times feels like the inside of an antique transistor radio, anachronistic soundtrack and all. It is certainly a world away from nearby Piccadilly Circus, and customers – a mix of professionals young and old, and inquisitive tourists – often descend hoping to escape the stress of the outside world with a stiff drink and pleasant company. The photogenic, waistcoated staff are welcoming and helpful, table service is smooth and efficient, and the general atmosphere is not unlike Rick's Cafe Americain in Casablanca, only without the impending threat of Nazi occupation.
Food at Bar Américain is limited to complimentary nibbles with your drink, but proper sustenance can be sought just down the hall at Brasserie Zedel's house restaurant, or in the first-floor café.
As well as an exemplary list of classic cocktails like the Martini, Manhattan and Sazerac, the bar specialises in home-made concoctions such as the Calloway – comprising port, bourbon, egg white and crème de figue – and the Belle Zédel, a murky yet delicious mélange of vodka, crème de myrtille, rhubarb bitters and blueberries. A short but well thought-out menu also includes an adequate selection of wine and champagne. Prices are high even for Central London (£10 for cocktails, £5.50-8 for wine, £4 for softs) but quality is guaranteed, and the classy décor certainly plays a part.
The Last Word
Expensive but luxuriant, Bar Américain is worth treating yourself for, with a carefully nurtured after-hours vibe and a wealth of liqueurs.