Home - Browse reviews - Bibliography

Here's a bar I'll happily prop up

Published 2 August 2009
News Review
837th article

Michael is served his favourite drink, a banana daiquiri, by Alan Cook in the Rivoli bar, at the Ritz, London (Ian jones)

I have around 400 oil and watercolour paintings on the walls of my house. One of my favourites cost £5 in an Ealing junk shop. I recognised it as a fine example of 19th-century Austrian kitsch. It's a small oil on board in a gilded, original frame. The subject is Leda (whoever she was) having intercourse with a swan. Both bird and Leda seem to be having a good time. This has been a popular subject for artists over the centuries.

Now Ms or Mrs Leda features in wood illustrations on the walls of the Ritz hotel's fairly new Rivoli bar. This art deco creation occupies a space vacated by shops facing Piccadilly. I'm not a great frequenter of bars, but a glossy magazine wanted to interview me in one. As the Ritz is my favourite hotel, I thought, "Why not there?" I'm pictured, beautifully dressed (you can't see my pyjama bottoms) with a banana daiquiri and the barman, Alan Cook. This was a cocktail version, sharper and tangier than the smooth, superb BDs at Sandy Lane. At least the dreaded chef, Grant MacPherson, who desecrated the food, didn't ruin its exotic drinks.

The Barclay brothers, Sir Frederick and Sir David, spent more than £50m on restoring the Ritz to its Edwardian grandeur. They resisted the temptation to which some great hotels (Dorchester, Claridge's, Connaught and others) succumbed, namely to replace what was elegant and historic with varying degrees of tat. The Rivoli bar is a delight. My Leda is better than the Ritz one. But it displays two versions. Numerically I'm inferior.

Compared with the new bars at the Dorchester (brown mush with red spears), Claridge's (awful) and the Connaught (the worst), the Ritz bar has class and style. I understand hoteliers need to maximise cash intake per square foot of space. Thus the Dorchester turned its lovely Italian restaurant into a bar; ditto Claridge's, its fantastic smorgasbord eatery. There's more money in drink than food.

Another thing many hotels have done is to change the lobby or lounge area, where guests could sit, meet friends and generally relax, into all-day dining. More profitable than keeping a freebie space for room-renters. Claridge's has a chandelier that looks like Medusa on acid, the Dorchester has various heights of chairs and tables, none of which matches another. In fairness (why should I suddenly be fair?), the Dorchester lobby, called the Promenade, still looks good. I like the bar at the end, which seems to be a favourite for ladies who could be there for professional reasons. I hope so. Those girls always cheer the place up.

I recently sampled the Dorchester "Afternoon tea tradition". This is not cheap. The champagne afternoon tea costs £49 including service; without the glass of champagne, £38.50. I'd made a speech in the Dorchester ballroom celebrating Lionel Blair's 106th year in showbusiness. I didn't want to eat or sit through the lunch. Instead we listened to the pianist (very good) in the Promenade. I ate a hamburger, which was okay; Geraldine had a fried fish platter with lobster, which she greatly liked. Then, as taster for you lot, I tried some sandwiches, scones and cakes. All excellent. The menu listed 24 teas. By the time you finished reading about them, you'd be late for dinner.

Now we dissolve back in time to May 5, 1995. The day I visited the greatest bar ever. A pub in the fantastic village of Dingle, in Co Kerry, Ireland. It's called Dick Mack's. Looks not unlike when it opened in 1899. One half is a shoe sale and repair bar. "We sell a lot of wellingtons to farmers and that sort of thing," explained Oliver Mack, son of Dick. The other half is a normal bar, where I had a draught Guinness - one of the great tastes of all time. Halfway between a milkshake and a beer. Oliver explained he had the barrel under the counter, "so you get the Guinness out without having to go through too many pipes". I determined to set one up at home. Of course, I didn't. I know things are the same now because I checked with the Dingle tourist office, very efficient lady marvellously named Grainne Ni Chonchuir.

Nice bit of Irish whimsy: I also found a web page headed Dick Mac's. Below is a photo of the pub with its clear sign: Dick Mack's. With k or without? Who cares? The phone number displayed elsewhere doesn't work either.

  • Here's something I bet you didn't know. David Lean, one of my all-time favourite directors, made Ryan's Daughter in and around Dingle. The movie featured a vast sandy beach a few miles from Dingle. Sarah Miles walked along it with her parasol. It rained so much in Ireland, Lean had to find an identical beach with reliable weather. So Ryan's Daughter shooting finished on a sandy beach a few miles from Cape Town, South Africa. I've been to both locations. They're unbelievably similar.

    I was once in a lift in the Pierre hotel, New York. A distinguished-looking grey-haired man said, "You're Michael Winner, aren't you?" It was my hero David Lean. I hadn't recognised him. Humiliation. Although, from that shaky start, we became friends.

    Michael's missives

    I was surprised to read of your concern that glasses in your top pocket might detract from your sartorial elegance. Last week's post-lunch photo suggests that you were wearing the tablecloth.
    Stuart Ross, Hesdin, France

    I couldn't help feeling sad at the cut of Sir's jacket next to the immaculately turned out Richard Caring. Perhaps Mr C could suggest somewhere in Savile Row for you, rather than Primark, which has obviously been acceptable to date.
    Edward David, London

    I loved last week's photo of Tommy Steele, with you as the Little White Bull.
    Bernard Hardisty, Nottingham

    Marvellous photograph. Hardly recognised Hinge and Bracket without the make-up.
    Christine Swann, Essex

    Do you realise in the past year you've never smiled with your mouth open? Whatever has happened? Two weeks in a row, a huge grin with a display of gnashers. Has your lovely fiancee treated you to a new set? Good for her. They're a better fit than the jacket.
    Sheila Benard, Kent

    Keith Floyd should visit his restaurant in Phuket. We couldn't complain about the service because there wasn't any. We had drinks and an appetiser, waited until we were almost asleep, paid the bill - and were still charged for service!
    Paul Nichols, Bahrain

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST, or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk