The Stafford Hotel is unique in many ways – quintessentially English yet favoured almost exclusively by Americans, and in the heart of St James’s, yet it epitomises informal luxury. The hotel is often described as ‘legendary’ and ‘an institution’, with staff who have remained for decades and guests who have stayed even longer. The high praise and customer love for the hotel is as much for the American Bar as for the five star comfort at the hotel found on St James’s Place.
Refurbished this year, the American Bar was the one area of The Stafford that remained relatively untouched, although it was slightly extended. This watering hole can tell many a tale of its previous occupants. Wonderful stories of bravado and achievement are in evidence in the extensive collection of memorabilia, photographs, cartoons, ties, baseball caps and statues that hang from the walls and ceiling. All these knick knacks and memories give the bar
its personality with many of the bar’s most frequent customers of yesterday peering at you from photographs, urging you to misbehave and order that next martini. Care should be taken when choosing a seat, as plaques dedicated to drinking legends past and present above the bar stools where they sat on a daily basis, save their spot should they ever return.
The perfect ‘club menu’ is sure to be a favourite with almost everyone. While we skipped the starters, the oysters, beef tartare and English asparagus with hollandaise sauce looked outstanding. The Bar is well known for its Club Sandwich and the Stafford Hamburger – both of which were consumed in record time by tables either side of us. In a weak attempt to be healthy, the barman recommended the sweet chilli prawn salad and grilled fish of the day. Both were excellent, and while the sweet chilli was delicious, it was strictly for the brave with a hefty dose of chilli. An outstanding hot chocolate brownie with ice cream then blew any modicum of respectability for a healthy lunch out of the water.
But it is as much the atmosphere as the food that makes you want to stay in the American Bar all afternoon. Each corner you turn, a smiling member of staff will tell you a legendary story of hotel folklore. My favourite was about Nancy Wake, a feisty New Zealander, who worked in the French resistance during the Second World War, and was nicknamed ‘The White Mouse’ by the Nazis, because she was so elusive. On checking in, she was asked how long she would be staying. She replied, ‘Until I die.’ That’s how much they like it here.