Affordable, old school opulence in the heart of Holborn – what’s not to love about Rosewood Hotel’s glamorous Scarfes Bar?
Every last inch of this hotel bar is the real deal. Jade-coloured marble, ionic columns line the room, a Medieval-looking iron cage acts as a grand chandelier in the centre, and a large open fire is almost Georgian in appearance. It’s a surprising blend that somehow works, largely due to the fact that every last detail in this room is of the finest quality. Each item of furniture has been individually sourced, from plush, leather armchairs to individual lamps that pepper the bar and look as if they’ve come straight from the 1920s. Even down to the finer details, bookcases hold classics and rare hardback books on their shelves, discovered by an antique dealer, while bell jars also on the shelves contain beautiful emerald blue butterflies. The bar takes its name from illustrator Gerald Scarfe – most famous for his hand in artwork for Pink Floyd’s The Wall – who will be treating the venue as a living canvas, over time adding his own illustrations to nooks and crannies.
The old-fashioned, wooden revolving door entrance is enough to transport you back in time, and you’re hit with a wall of warmth, and a harmony of jazz sounds and muted chatter. A live jazz three-piece or a pianist-performer play in the early evening, providing a smooth backing track for schmoozing clients, wooing a date or celebrating with friends and family. Customers here aren’t just hotel guests, but are sophisticated, smart-looking folk from the area and beyond. They vie for a seat by the roaring fire in the winter months, but the large room offers plenty of comfortable chairs, as well as a few prime perches up at the bar where the cocktail magic happens. Speaking of magic, the staff strike the perfect balance between polite and down to earth, they offer a warmth as glowing as the heat from that open fire, the kind rarely found in your average stiff and formal hotel bar.
Bar snacks offer an international spread, with a slight Asian lean best seen in the chicken tikka sticks with smoked paprika raita (£9) – these morsels are tender, lightly spiced and ideal for sharing. A board of pizettes (mini pizzas, £7) is a safe bet for larger groups, with two little squares of three different pizza toppings served on a charcoal slate. They are just the right size for delicate nibbling, with a light, airy dough forming the base – the tomato and Merguez is the most exciting of the three, with a subtle Moroccan spice and sweetness. For a more British take on snacking, there’s the smoked salmon pot with dill crème fraiche (£5.50) – although the pate-like dish is creamy and of undeniable quality, it could do with just a few more rounds of farm toast on the side.
With some hotel bars now charging around £14 for a cocktail, Scarfes Bar maintains a safe starting price of £10.50 for its interpretation of the classics – these include a Martinez, Tommy’s Margarita and Clover Club, as well as lesser-known champions from the cocktail canon, such as the Irish Mermaid, with malt whiskey, cherry liqueur, Aperol and bitters.
For a little more, you can try some unique house creations (£12.50), such as the refreshing aperitif Bubble and Shrubs – Sipsmith gin, St Germain, a homemade berry shrub syrup and Champagne top. Another long, refreshing drink is the Seine River Fizz, and once you’ve penetrated the bubbly elderflower foam on the top, you’re rewarded with a mix of Grey Goose, ginger liqueur, lime and lemonade. More playful than that elderflower foam is the cutesy glass teapot the Thyme Out comes served in, with a delicate and appropriate sprig of lavender poking its head out the top. This gin-based cocktail is as herbaceous as the name would have you believe, with thyme the dominant flavour.
If you like your cocktails more bitter and boozy, though, Diplomatic Immunity is an ideal candidate – a blend of pure alcohol thanks to Diplomatico Exclusiva rhum, ginger liqueur and an in-house spice mix that plays with the palate. If that doesn’t do it for you, Scarfes Bar’s drink menu holds a ‘distillery’ section in store, with hundreds of gins, whiskies and vodkas worth exploring, serving as ideal nightcap fodder.
The Last Word
Quality rules at Scarfes Bar, where fine furnishings are surprisingly comfortable and courteous staff buck hotel bar norms with friendly behaviour through and through. Although these comforts will make you feel well at home, a classic cocktail in hand, a jazz piano backing track and a position by the roaring fire remind you of your pure class setting.