Gerald Scarfe is one of the great cartoonists of his age. His accomplishments are legion. He served as political cartoonist for the New Yorker for 15 years and the Sunday Times for 50. He worked with Pink Floyd on their seminal 1979 album The Wall. He drew the credits sequence for the classic sitcom Yes Minister. He designed the characters for the 1997 Disney film Hercules. In 2011, someone named a pterosaur after him. In 2014, someone else named a bar after him. I can’t speak for the pterosaur but the bar is fantastic.

Scarfes Bar is situated in the Rosewood London. Its inspiration can be traced across the Atlantic to Bemelmans Bar at New York’s Carlyle Hotel – decorated by the Austrian illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans. Matthias D. Rourke, former managing director of the Rosewood, asked Gerald Scarfe whether a similar arrangement could be struck for the London hotel’s new bar; happily Scarfe assented.

Today, Scarfes Bar is regularly cited as one of the finest hotel bars in the world. Imagine the world’s coolest drawing room and you’re not far off. Velvet sofas, leather chairs, ginormous bookcases that contain ancient hardbacks of all genres, from Charles Dickens to the Dictionary of National Biography 1931-1940 (and those were the two nearest to me). The napkins show a little cartoon of Gerald writing the name of the bar.

As you’d imagine, there’s also a lot of Gerard Scarfe artwork – massive canvases arranged around the room that depict everyone from the Beatles to the Royal Family to the cast of Hercules to various Prime Ministers imagined as Charles Dickens characters. (Tony Blair is the Artful Dodger; Gordon Brown is Scrooge.) A trip to the bathroom can take 20 minutes as you stop to admire every new canvas.

Scarfes Bar
Scarfes Bar

What to order?

Scarfes recently launched a new cocktail menu, From Scratch, that offers a personalised twist on classic mixes. There are 22 cocktails in total so you’ll either need to bring a large party or visit on several occasions if you want to complete the lot.

Smokey Maria (Patron Silver, Tio Pepe, Marmite) is “the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had,” according to my friend Owen. He proceeds to take a photo of the menu so he can make it at home. “I genuinely might get another one of these,” he says. You genuinely won't, I tell him – it's a review and we need to diversify.

Diversify we do. Call Me Nutty (Michter’s Rye, Roasted Hazelnuts, Tonka) is a gorgeous little cocktail that tastes, yes, nutty and warm. It carries just enough zing to remind you of the whisky within. I would happily call it back.

Paper Glider (Highland Park 12, Aperol, peach and maple Verjus) gleams as golden as a sunset and tastes fresh as a spring morning. Possibly the highlight of our selection. And there’s the awesomely named Cookie Sour (Eagle Rare 10, Sauternes, Cookie Verjus, cream soda), which does indeed offer a hint of cookie, although not enough to feel twee.

Scarfes also offers some seriously sophisticated bar snacks for you to scoff. Strips of seared Aberdeen Sirloin? Yes please. Toasted crumpet with Devonshire crab? Lay it on me! Tuna tacos in particular are a tangy delight. While delicious, these are very much small plates rather than main meals so either eat beforehand or be prepared to rack up a hefty bill. The staff are very generous with the olives – fresh bowls appear incessantly – and that’s a huge green flag in every sense.

Smokey Maria
Paper Glider
Call Me Nutty
Cookie Sour

What’s the damage?

Put it this way, the price points match the decor. The cocktails range from £20 to £24; the small plates are more eclectic, with £15 smoked aubergine being the cheap option and £26 sirloin the most punchy. So yeah, an evening of any substance will breeze into three figures without really trying.

Bottles of certain champagne vintages and spirit labels break the four figure mark on their own. Maybe if you’re there on the company card. And you plan to quite next week anyway.

Anything else to note?

Live jazz music is played daily. Yeah, this is a very classy joint – rather than its namesake. I expect the pterosaur is classy, too. 

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Rosewood London, 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN; Scarfes Bar