When cocktail joint NoMad New York opened in 2014, the bar became such a hotspot it almost eclipsed the hotel that created it. Renowned for its combination of serious technique and playful flourishes (elaborately garnished drinks, secret back rooms, gratis champagne), it earned the adoration of bartenders and party kids alike, and went on to win a haul of awards.
So expectations have naturally been high for NoMad London in Covent Garden. Housed in the former Bow Street Magistrates’ Court – a Grade II-listed building that once played host to Casanova, the Kray Twins and Oscar Wilde – this grand hotel boasts 91 rooms, two bars (plus a third to come later in the year), a handsome restaurant and all manner of other spaces in which to eat and drink.
The hotel’s most informal bar is the “tavern”-style Side Hustle. With its wood panelling, bottle-green booths and low lighting, it has a moody vibe similar to its stateside sibling – but with the addition of a vast array of agave spirits. Drinks here are designed for fun – thirst-quenching palomas, tequila Mai Tais and Espresso Martinis. There are also three twists on Nomad’s infamous Cocktail Explosions, sharing drinks for six to eight that come to the table in a 2ft-high cut-glass punch jar fitted with tiny taps, and decked out with a riot of fresh fruit and mint.
Rather more refined is the hotel’s restaurant, which occupies the light-filled, triple-height atrium at the heart of the building. With its rows of dazzling white marble tables and orange trees, it’s very much a see-and‑be-seen kind of place – the bar, tucked to one side, feels more intimate. Sitting on a shell-pink, fringed velvet bar stool, guests can savour sophisticated aperitifs including the Martini-style En Pointe (a blend of gin, sherry, kirsch and dill created in honour of the Royal Ballet across the road) and a twist on a Death in the Afternoon, made with sparkling wine, house-made lemon verbena sorbet, elderflower and absinthe. Slow-stirred, sipping drinks include the Brown Sugar, a blend of aged rums and whisky, amari, PX and black sesame, and an Old Fashioned made with reposado tequila, mezcal, chocolate bitters and nutty pandan leaf.
“We draw a lot of inspiration from what our chefs are using in the kitchen,” says bar director Pietro Collina. “What excites us is using ingredients that people recognise, but that they might not necessarily expect to find in a cocktail.” This approach has enabled them to create some really original non-alcoholic drinks too, including a tamarind and fig leaf agua fresca, and a teetotal take on the scented Ramos Fizz.
In true NoMad style, the hotel is full of theatrical nooks and crannies. Off the atrium, behind a curtain, I discover a saucy little dining room with midnight-blue velvet booths and gilded Chinese wallpaper. In The Library, a blood-red bar by the lobby, there are plenty of corners for hiding away with an Old Fashioned and a good book. Down in the basement, come November, there will also be Common Decency, a more avant-garde cocktail den that will open late into the night.
The hottest ticket of all, though, will be the four vaulted “snugs” that NoMad has eked out in former coal holes under the street (opening later this year). Accessed by their own private doors and decorated with Aubrey Beardsley-style murals, hand-drawn in gold by Royal Opera House set designers, each jewel-coloured party cave can accommodate six to 10 for drinks and nibbles. One even has a miniature cocktail bar – so you really can isolate in style.