History Is Served In A Cocktail Glass At London's Donovan Bar

London is a magnet for famous figures, and Brown's Hotel has seen many of them over the years: Laurence Olivier, Winston Churchill, and Orson Welles — just to name a few. Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call in London on the premises, and as the city's oldest hotel, Brown's Hotel is home to one of the most historic bars you can step foot into: the Donovan Bar.

The sleek Donovan Bar offers history of its own — not just in environment but also in rare vintage spirits. A well-lit glass display showcases these bottles, many with faded and peeling labels. The bar oozes yesteryear while simultaneously toasting tomorrow, owing much of its legacy to the stewardship of award-winning mixologist Salvatore Calabrese and director of mixology Federico Pavan. Calabrese has written books, judged international competitions, served as president of the United Kingdom Bartenders' Guild, and found a niche market for rare, aged cognacs — starting a concept he describes as "Liquid History."

A taste of history

Calabrese is the mastermind behind the one of the world's most expensive cocktails — Salvatore's Legacy, which is offered at the Donovan Bar for £5,500 (almost $6,600). The libation — deemed the world's oldest cocktail by the bar – packs over 700 years into a glass by combining Clos de Griffier Vieux cognac from 1788, Kummel liqueur from 1770, orange liqueur from 1860, and Angostura bitters from 1930.

While you sip, you can also take in the history from the chic 1960s photos found around the sophisticated and stylish establishment. The prints are from renowned fashion and portrait photographer Terence Donovan — the namesake of the bar. If you want to pay homage to Churchill, order a spectacle of a drink dubbed The Winston, a concoction of Dalmore whisky, mandarin liqueur, orange bitters, and eucalyptus that's garnished with a smoke bubble.

The bar mixes up several other vintage cocktails for connoisseurs and enthusiasts, such as The Daiquiri, a variation of the classic drink, which was first invented in 1896. At the Donovan Bar, it's made out of Bacardi Santiago Cuba rum from 1905, fresh lime juice, and sugar — available to enjoy for £850 (just over $1,000). And as an homage to the bar's 185th anniversary, Calabrese created The 1837, using his own collection of vintage bottles. It includes Rouyer Cognac Vintage from 1865, a 30-year-old Bowmore whisky, and Peychaud's bitters, and is priced at £650 (around $775).

Toast the past and the future

If sampling history isn't pleasing to your palate (or your pocketbook — we understand), the Donovan Bar's team also presents an eclectic mix of more affordable cocktails in the £20-£25 ($25-$30) range. Choose from the Spicy Fifty, a warming and sweet blend of Stoli vanilla vodka, elderflower cordial, lime juice, honey, and fresh chili pepper; Reed Between The Lines, made from Dewar's Ilegal Smooth whisky fat-washed with salted butter, barley wine reduction, lemon juice, Bénédictine, and Angostura bitters, and garnished with a whimsical stem of dried wheat; or the Sparkling Side of the Moon, a Champagne-topped clarified punch — crafted from Bulleit 10 Bourbon, cognac, Grand Marnier, fernet, passion berries, juniper, coriander, mint, and chamomile — that's meant to celebrate the music of Pink Floyd. 

Bars in London are well-known for good reason, and it's clear why The Donovan rests stately on top of the list.