How could I live in London for over ten years and not know about the Stafford Hotel’s American Bar? Now that we have been introduced, I feel as if I have rediscovered a lost friend.
Looking both ways before ducking through a narrow passageway from Green Park to discover its entrance, I felt a tiny bit like the Stafford’s most famous resident, The White Mouse.
Given that nickname by the Gestapo for her skill in eluding capture, Australian born Nancy Wake was one of WWII’s greatest spies, awarded by Churchill, the French government and presented the American Medal of Freedom for her bravery.
She was living in Paris when it fell to the Nazis and found her calling helping British soldiers escape occupied France through its notorious underground network. Reported to have killed a SS officer with her own hands, the White Mouse was on the Nazi’s Ten Most Wanted list. Fortunately for her, they assumed the mouse was a man and she worked under the radar until they realized their mistake. She escaped to the UK and worked tirelessly until the end of the war.
After her wartime adventures, she called the Stafford Hotel home and was to be found at the bar everyday at 11am sharp drinking G&T’s.
I was invited downstairs to their wine cellar to inaugurate their American Bar’s new Cocktail Menu devised by mixologist extraordinaire Erik Rychnausky, all influenced by the hotel’s important wartime history which acted as a bomb shelter for British soldiers.
We sampled all three concoctions: the Stafford Garden – laden with herbs picked directly from the Stafford’s own backyard, The Spitfire, the great stalwart of WWII, and the aforementioned White Mouse.
Secretly I couldn’t wait to tipple the White Mouse whose ingredients are a tribute to the woman who Nancy Wake was: the subtlety of Saffron Gin, honey for a hint of feminine sweetness, a dash of France with a top-up of Champagne and a bite to end it off with a squeeze of lemon juice and a garnish of star anise for the soldier who had no problem ordering a captured female French spy’s death before Nancy had even eaten breakfast.
(I even found a reunion hat from my own university snuck in with all the rest – Go Tigers!)
The American bar upstairs is packed from floor to ceiling with gifts left by guests. The rumor is that it was once so empty that one guest left something to brighten up the place and it snowballed into the whole bar being covered by model airplanes, photographs, university baseball caps, football helmets and all sorts of US and UK memorabilia everywhere you look.
I may not frequent the American Bar as often as Nancy, but when I do, I sit in her signature bar stool, order a White Mouse and toast to a woman without whom we might not have been able to have the freedom to do just that!
- Stafford Hotel
16-18 Saint James’s Place, London SW1A 1NJ
+44 (0) 20 7493 0111