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March 27, 2023

Vesper bar revival heralds a new era for the Dorchester

The new-look Vesper bar is part of a drive to bring back the Dorchester hotel’s glory days

By Rory Sachs

The Dorchester’s newly revamped and refurbished Vesper Bar has only been open a few short weeks, but when Spear’s drops by one Friday evening there is already a buzz about the place.

Guests perched on green leather bar stools chat and laugh, bathed in the golden light that shimmers off the Palladium leaf ceiling.

Several people have ordered the cocktail that gives the bar its name, which subtly underlines the hotel’s pedigree.

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The Vesper Martini – with gin, vodka, a splash of sherry and a spritz of lemon – was devised by Ian Fleming, who often stayed at the Dorchester during the 1940s and used the setting for inspiration.

Vesper cocktail at The Dorchester
The Vesper Martini cocktail at The Dorchester gave the bar its name

In Fleming’s Solo, Bond wakes up in one of the hotel suites on his 45th birthday.

The bar’s new interior was conceived by Martin Brudnizki, the superstar designer known for his work on Annabel’s in London, Fortnum & Mason in Hong Kong and the Eden Rock hotel in St Barths.

‘We wanted to create something a bit more flamboyant, a bit more colourful, a bit more fun and sexy,’ laughs Luca Virgilio, the Dorchester’s general manager, when we speak several days after that Friday evening visit to the bar.

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vesper bar dorchester hotel
The brief for the new-look Vesper bar was to be more ‘flamboyant, colourful, fun and sexy’

‘That was the brief, and Martin Brudnizki is definitely in his comfort zone, where he excels the most.’

For Virgilio and his colleagues, however, the work is not yet done. Four floors of suites and the roof terrace are midway through an extensive renovation – the biggest changes to the hotel in 30 years.

‘We want to be the best in the market. And all of this is to make sure we reclaim or we get back that position,’ Virgilio says.

‘I mean, I don’t think we’ve ever lost it, but you need to keep on reinventing and reinvesting to make sure that you stay there.’

The Dorchester coming back from controversy

The hotel, which is owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, did endure a period in the doldrums recently.

In 2019 it was catapulted into the headlines when the Brunei government announced it would introduce death by stoning as the punishment for homosexual acts and adultery.

A global Dorchester boycott followed, with George Clooney and Elton John speaking out against the draconian laws, which were subsequently shelved by Brunei leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

This controversy was a distant memory when London’s It crowd descended for a London Fashion Week bash in February.

Vesper bar at The Dorchester interior
Martin Brudnizki designed the new interior at the Vesper bar

Joan Collins, Lily James, Oswald Boateng and countless beautiful young people were among the guests to christen the lobby, which has also been refurbished and is the work of French designer Pierre-Yves Rochon.

Taking inspiration from the English countryside, Rochon has assembled ornate bouquets of roses, pastel-coloured pieces of upholstery and murals that look unmistakably like London’s royal parks.

These floral flourishes line a long ‘promenade’, which stretches from the entrance hall to the ground floor Artists’ Bar and includes a mirrored piano, once owned by Liberace himself, which serves as the centrepiece of the open-plan space.

Although Virgilio’s renovation continues, he has allowed himself to enjoy the landmarks along the way.

‘It’s elegant, it’s refined, this is English, it’s London,’ he says. ‘To be able to open the ground floor, it feels like a proper hotel again.’

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More from Spear’s:

The Other House London: a (petite) home from home

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