On the fashion trail

The Lonsdale in London recently hosted a Whisky Magazine cocktail challenge. Dominic Roskrow spoke to general manager Henry Besant.
By Dominic Roskrow
If you’re of the view that whisky doesn’t have a place in the most stylish and fashionable city centre bars, you ought to have a word with Henry Besant.It’s fair to say that Henry has been around a bit. He’s currently running the trendy Lonsdale at the heart of London’s fashionable Notting Hill and his CV reads like an Ato Z of London’s glitziest style bars and hotels.Perhaps the pinnacle of his career so far was taking on a not too successful Rockwell Bar in Trafalgar Square and through the promotion of bourbon, helping to turn it in to the capital’s top bar.That’s not a subjective view, either; last year it won both Time Out’s and the London Evening Standard’s Bar of the Year – the first venue to hold both titles at the same time. Now Henry has moved to the Lonsdale, he hasn’t forgotten how important the role of whisky has been to his success. Far from it. In fact he’s a bit of a walking advert for all things malt and rye.“I’m a big fan of whisky,” he says just as soon as we meet. “It’s very important. In fact I’d say that if a bar is serious about doing well it should have a large choice of bourbons and just as many single malts.”In August, the Lonsdale hosted a whisky cocktail challenge (full report in the next issue) at which a selection of top barmen made a traditional and a modern cocktail using a range of whisky products.The point of it was to prove to cynics that whisky – including some quite testing single malts – could appeal to the fashion crowd. Lonsdale was chosen as the venue because it has such cocktails at the core of its drinks menu.“The list is really a greatest hits of cocktails,” says Henry. “Some of them were created by me at other venues I have worked at, some have become classics in their own right, and some have just become firm favourites, but they are a good cross section of drinks to suit all tastes.”And in addition to the cocktails there are a selection of whiskies that include Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old, Eagle Rare 17-year-old, and Sazerac 18-year-old. Intriguingly there is also Glinne Paras. Colombian whisky perhaps?“No, it’s a five-year-old Scottish blend,” says Henry, bringing over a sample. “Very good in cocktails because it blends well with sours.”Lonsdale, a bar created from scratch, has only been open a year and has been full every night since its launch, attracting a celebrity crowd as well as a local one. Attracting the trendiest people to your bar is one thing but keeping them is another altogether. Alongside outstanding service, quality premium spirits brands are very much a part of doing that, says Henry. With Lonsdale about to be refurbished for daytime opening, Henry and his team are in the process of putting together a new seasonal cocktail menu. For Henry, the whisky link will remain essential.“We have built up a great relationship with many of the bourbon guys,” he says. “We went over to make cocktails at the Kentucky Festival last year and it was amazing. They are very keen to work with us and we with them to help promote such great whisky products.”