Bar Américain, Piccadilly
As new French Brasserie Balthazar looms above London, fresh off the boat from New York and spinning in a PR frenzy, let’s spare a thought for another decent brasserie in town. Brasserie Zédel, tucked under Piccadilly Circus on the site of the former Regent Palace Hotel, is a grand Old World subterranean dining room, serving classic brasserie fare at crazy cheap prices. Good enough for a date, certainly, but it’s the bar that leads off the main foyer that I’d like to tout as a great date spot. Resting in a dark, circular room just next to the brasserie, Bar Américain is an Art Deco triumph, with tiger print carpets, gold gilding, wood paneling, low lighting and dark leather seats. Nestled in the sprawling basement of the building, you could well be on an Ocean liner in the 30s. Where the Zédel dining room bustles, this joint simmers, with bourbon-spiked drinks, intimate seating and old school pessaz. With the right sort of crowd control, this will remain an elegant drinking hole for a classy night.
Don’t mess around with red wine, the Pinot Noir was average and expensive. What they do well is cocktails, of course, and traditional ones at that. All priced at £9.75, they don’t go overboard with a million fresh juices and swizzle sticks. No, this is about a good gin base (the Aviation and the Martini), a savvy use of egg whites (Mr Hyde, the Calloway, No. 20) and some damn fine whiskey should you want to take it neat. If I had to recommend a drink, it’d be a house cocktail called The Chrysler, as much for the name as its commingling of cognac, port and Campari. Small plates are available, such as hot dogs and a Croque Monsieur but I wouldn’t, nay couldn’t, want to break character and make a mess.
Part of the fun of this bar is the journey down from the ground floor, so meet your date outside the main entrance. Since Central London is a little less than glamorous on the weekends, aim for a Wednesday or Thursday date from 9pm-11pm. Make sure you’ve read up on the history of the previous hotel and the era, lightly peppering your descent into the bar with interesting facts, pausing to marvel at touches in the architecture, guffawing about how you could be in a different time. Then lose this chat as soon as you’ve been seated and focus on the date. As I said, stick with liquor and definitely don’t overdo it. This is the sort of place where you should nurse your martini for half an hour, be urbane with your chat, and sit close to each other. Take a pause for water between drinks and, for your second cocktail, ask the bartender to recommend something. Try each other’s drinks and get slowly tipsy, maintaining a lot of eye contact and talking conspiratorially close, without invading their space. Before your drink is done, get old school on the situation and ask them if you can kiss them. Lean in, keep it brief and lingering, then finish up your drink and scram. Girls, let them hail you a cab. Guys, the tube is right there. You’ll be in bed by midnight with fire in your belly.
You can’t reserve a table.
2. Sure you could push this further but what’s the point of a classy joint if you’re just going to act like a tramp.