We were sat side-by-side on a luxurious green leather banquette with a small round table perched in front – this place exudes style and sophistication. A dapper barman in a double-breasted suit appears by our table with a tempting amuse-bouche-cocktail; we hadn’t even thought about drinks until now. A mix of gin with bergamot sorbet, sparkling apple juice and orange leaf essential oil, to ‘awaken your palate and senses’. We are both thirsty for more.
I ordered my regular: a dry gin martini with a lemon twist. What happened next, I can only describe as a work of art. Agostino Perrone, also known as, Dr. Ago, the Director of Mixology and master of the martini appears with his curated cart and carefully positions his ‘stage’ directly in front of me. He begins blotting five different scented oils onto a crisp white card. Lavender, smoked cardamom, coriander seed, marzipan, and my choice, ’The Dr. Ago’; an energizing combination of bergamot and ginseng. Each scent is accompanied by a passionate description of the feeling and impact the subtle flavour would have on the pallet of the final martini. For the gin, I chose the signature spirit created by the team for The Connaught Bar’s 10th anniversary. He then proceeded to mix all the ingredients, all while being very sympathetic to my taste for vermouth and balance. Then, with the martini glass at the centre, he dramatically pours gin from the sky, whilst effortlessly and gracefully infusing it with Amalfi lemon in the other hand. It was the perfect dry martini.
Tucked away behind the grand staircase of the iconic Connaught Hotel in London is the world’s best bar, The Connaught Bar. At its helm are three industry icons, Dr. Ago, Giorgio Bargiani – Head Mixologist, and Maura Milia – Deputy Bar Manager. The trio have created an indescribable vibe, and their passion is felt in every sip and every movement of service. I was lucky enough to sit down with Dr. Ago, whilst sipping my perfect Martini, and learn more about him and my favourite bar. He was also kind enough to share with us a recipe for a cocktail from his upcoming new menu, Eclipse. Although something we encourage you to try at home, it will most definitely taste better at the Connaught Bar.
Q: Tell me about your roots and background.
A: I’m Italian, from Lago di Como, but I spent my summers in Puglia – it was here I had my first experiences with ingredients like figs, tomato, and watermelon. I worked with my uncle here and loved getting my hands dirty and having that direct contact with the freshest produce and the earth, it’s a knowledge that has stuck with me.
As I was growing up, I took a job bartending at a friend’s bar in Como to help pay for my education and pursue my dream to be a photographer. I met so many interesting and well-travelled people who gave me an excitement and thirst for travel. I was very curious at that time about spirits and where or why they were made. This was the start of my creative journey. I worked at a few bars in Milan, Monza over the next 5 years in Italy before I moved to London.
Q: What led you to the Connaught Bar and where you are today?
A: In 2008, I was 30 and approached by the team at the Connaught who were creating this new secret bar. I was intrigued and inspired to create a place that focuses on how the customer feels,
a romantic interior with empathy, combined with a theatrical space to showcase the art of
the cocktail. For me, it’s not just about what you do but how you do it.
Q: How does it feel to be named the World’s best bar? What led you to this achievement?
A: Honestly, we have been winning awards since the bar opened in 2008 for everything from lifestyle, decor to the drinks of course! For me the important achievement is that we have been on the top 10 of World’s 50 Best Bars for all those years and that shows our consistency.
Of course, winning this award is amazing and is a testament to our team. I believe that Giorgio, Mita and I try our best to spread the mentality of a team spirit and to empower each other. Overall, if you ask me — regardless of all the awards — for me the biggest prize is our customers, who trust us and come back to us because of what
we try to do.
Q: What’s next for the Connaught Bar?
A: The bar is evolving organically. We are working on our new menu now with some experimental techniques and we also love to keep to traditions. Sometimes being classic is the best type of innovation as it allows our guest to feel at home and know what they can expect from us.
Q: When you’re in a bar and not working, what do you order?
A: I think of myself as a bit more of a classic guy.
I love martinis, margaritas, and negronis but am also open to try and experience new things. It also very much depends on my mood. Similar to our guests, I feel there is a moment and a place for many different things — sometimes a glass of red wine is just perfect.
Q: Are there any cocktails that stand out to you and what’s their story?
A: We have many but here I will tell you about Magnetum. In this cocktail, we play with the idea of two parallels that do not normally meet, like two opposites that attract. We make two very unique cocktails poured over each other and use an ice lift that delicately combines them. One cocktail evokes the feeling before you enter the bar, a blend of elegant classic flavours, and the other, the mood inside where we innovate. The bespoke strainer, or ice lift, is actually designed like the bar doors which perfectly carries the experience through.
Ingredients: Macallan 12 Double Cask, Una Palma Fino Sherry, Galliano L’Autentico, milk, fresh pineapple, Noe Pedro Ximenez Sherry, lavender bitters.