All-female crime gang inspires new London cocktail bar

40 Elephants bar Great Scotland Yard hotel

For more than 200 years, Great Scotland Yard was the headquarters of London’s police force. Now that the Grade II-listed building has become a five-star hotel, the tables have been turned, in its bar at least, where the Forty Elephants, one of Britain’s most notorious criminal gangs, call the shots. A portrait of “bobbed-haired bandit” Lilian Rose Kendall – a leader, or “queen”, of the all-female organisation in the 1920s – looks down on drinkers at 40 Elephants, the main bar at Great Scotland Yard Hotel, while the gang’s history has inspired the drinks on the menu.

Part of The Unbound Collection By Hyatt, the 152-room hotel in Westminster has been created out of government offices, with design led by hospitality specialist HBA. The stunning interiors are in a contemporary style but refer to the building’s history which, in part, dates back over 1,000 years to 997. Once home to Scottish royalty and then English civil servants including architect Christopher Wren and poet John Milton, it was the base for the Metropolitan Police for more than two centuries to 1890. It then became government offices until being converted into the hotel, which opened in December.

There are two destination bars leading off the hotel’s ground-floor lobby – the other is Síbín, more of which later. Under bar manager Michal Maziarz and head bartender Alex Williams, they have been developed with leading consultancy Gorgeous Group and drinks specialist and former bartender Julian de Féral. The elegant 40 Elephants bar features a striking central chandelier made of broken glass, hanging over a mix of furniture including a long ornate wooden table with artefacts linked to the gang under glass. The bar’s menu provides plenty of history on the Forty Elephants who were behind organised thefts, including shoplifting raids, from the late 18th century until the 1960s, operating mainly in central and south London – they took their name from the Elephant & Castle area.

This is not the only history that has influenced the drinks; inspiration also comes from the first British cocktail book, Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, published in 1869 – William Terrington’s response to the success of Jerry Thomas’s How To Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion in the US. Options on the bar’s “Cups” list include the 40 Elephants Cup, mixing a sweet white port, a herbaceous gin, blackcurrant and red wine, and the Puttin’ on the Posh – describing how the thieves dressed up to pass unnoticed in upmarket stores – which combines Ceylon Arrack with peach, honey, sparkling wine and raspberry liqueur.

Wines, especially fortified wines, are a key feature of the cocktails which are mostly priced at £14. The Brawler is named after Alice Diamond, or “Diamond Annie”, who was “queen” in the early 20th century. Punchy like its namesake, it is a bold and slightly spicy drink made with rums, including a clairin from Haiti, plus Campari and pineapple. She was also the inspiration for the Black Diamond (pictured above) combining blended scotch whisky, tokaji wine, apricot and tobacco.

I enjoyed the dry and spruce-fresh Mary Carr (pictured above), which is named after another “queen” and artists’ model who led the Forty Elephants when they first became infamous in the late 19th century. It mixes Belsazar Riesling pineapple vermouth, Nieport dry white port, Delicioso manzanilla sherry and a “forest floor”-infused gin.

One particularly Instagrammable cocktail is The Forger (pictured below), which alludes to the last “queen” of the Forty Elephants, Shirley Pitts, who died in 1992. It is made with pineau des Charentes, chocolate distillate, mint, green walnut and cream, with an edible forged mini £50 note flowing on the foamy top.

The bar’s low- and no-alcohol drinks are listed under “Detective Stories” – a tribute to those who helped bring the Forty Elephants to justice. Priced at £12, they include the rich and fresh Lady Sherlock – the nickname of store detective Annie Betts – which combines white truffle syrup, cranberry, cherry, lime and hazelnut. A tempting menu of savoury and sweet bar snacks has been put together by chef and restaurateur Robin Gill, owner of The Dairy in Clapham, who oversees food across the hotel including its restaurant The Yard.

Across the lobby, a set of bookshelves turns out to be a door into the second bar, called Síbín, as in “shebeen”, the Irish word for an illicit bar or whiskey. It is dedicated to whisky as well as white grain spirits such as poitin and white dog, with a list of over 100 expressions including limited releases, displayed in cabinets along the wall. With a mix of furniture from bar stools to colourfully upholstered armchairs (pictured), it has a marble bar counter down the centre – ideal for tastings – plus a ceiling feature made of 1,935 bottles. Corn doll sculptures, created by artist Alastair Mackie, are mounted on the oak panelling, referencing the grain and wood used for making whisky. It is just one example of the extensive selection of art across the hotel sourced by Hollandridge Group.

Challenging stuffy images of whisky, Síbín has a cocktail list titled the “Antagonist Ten”, with light, fruity and fragrant drinks using whisky as their base. The “Classic Ten” list allows guests to choose which whisky is used as the base of a classic cocktail such as a Boulevardier (pictured).

Along with The Yard, the hotel’s food and beverage offering also includes The Parlour (pictured below) for a contemporary take on traditional British afternoon tea. Along with teas and chai, tea-based cocktails are available. For winter, the list features punches, served in glass teapots, such as the Hot Apple Punch made with Somerset cider brandy infused with Tarry Lapsang Souchong tea plus winter spices, fresh apple juice and Punt e Mes vermouth, with apple crisps and grated cinnamon.

Great Scotland Yard Hotel, 3-5 Great Scotland Yard, London SW1A 2HN
Tel: 020 7925 4700

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