Nice to meet you reader, I’m Estefania, One Night’s newest writer here to uncover London’s most coveted hotel secrets. For nearly fifteen years, I was lucky enough to call West London my home. As a key part of a city now more infamous for attracting tourists on the lookout for Hugh Grant’s blue-doored home in 90s classic Notting Hill, West (as it is referred to by Londoners) is also home of the iconic West End Theater District, Trafalgar Square, and Selfridges.
As much as I love West, I relocated to East London just over a year ago, spending most of my downtime running back and forth between friends’ gigs in Peckham, bars in Soho, and whichever restaurant is deemed new and delicious. I will often (unsurprisingly) end up at just about any after-hours bar du jour for a quick nightcap or five. Having grown up between London, New York, and Miami, I have experienced my fair share of merry public imbibing and feel as though I have mastered the skill of curating the perfect night.
So, when One Night asked if I would go suss out The Milestone Hotel for their new ‘Cocktails and Acquaintances’ series, I knew they had the right gal. The premise? Drink as many cocktails as I can with the bartenders and invite strangers to join me.
The Milestone Hotel in Kensington is one of London’s hidden gems, that surprisingly, really isn’t that hidden. Located a literal stones-throw away from Kensington Palace, The Milestone is a boutique hotel which does not boast, but whispers that old-school high tea glamour. The building’s roots go back to 1698, having housed ambassadors, royal bodyguards, and various barons and diplomats. Needless to say, The Milestone has its fair share of high society secrets.
As I made my way into The Milestone’s Victorian-style, Bea Tollman-decorated lobby, I was greeted by the lovely concierge Chloe, who told me a bit about the hotel, while Fran, the porter, greeted me with champagne and showed me to the bar. Suffice to say, we were off to a good start.
Upon first impression, The Stables Bar is a perfectly quiet, intimate space where time stands still in the best way possible. The piece de resistance to any drink lover would be the perfectly symmetrical bar filled with every top-shelf liquor and spirit a man or woman could want. A short wooden stairway within the bar leads to an upper, more private section to accommodate larger groups looking to chat face-to-face with a little more privacy. Like most establishments I prefer to frequent, The Stables Bar eschews the frenetic London bar and hotel scene: you’re transported into another time and world.
I decided to forgo reading too much into the thorough drinks menu and challenged Giorgio and Giacomo, the two friendly, handsome Italian bartenders working that night. Both in their uniform of white jackets and suit trousers, they were a refreshing antidote to the newsboy caps and overgrown wiry beards that have taken over a lot of the London bar scene. As one of them opened a giant bottle of Graham’s 1982 port, I was told a particular celebrity couple (whose names have been sworn to secrecy) have “enjoyed glasses” from this particular bottle “two or three times.” This sort of calm secrecy made it the ideal place to enjoy a drink alone, so as I introduced myself, I made sure to mention that I enjoy a “stronger, more refreshing cocktail.” Next thing I knew I was sipping on the perfect Manhattan.
After a few cocktails, Giacomo and I became all the more friendly, and together prepared my next concoction, an Angel Face made from gin, apricot brandy, and Calvados. I continued to watch as Giacomo seamlessly catered to the other customers’ needs, pouring Hibiki whiskey and shaking rum into Mai Tais. The night was still young, so the bar only carried a handful of patrons, a few fashionable, jet-lagged twenty-something tourists winding down, a man having a tea on his own in a cushioned corner, an American couple having bar snacks… and of course, me.
“What kind of drinks do guys order to show off?” I ask.
Politely, he replies, “if they ask for the finest, I will bring them one of the cognacs”
“What about champagne?”
“Champagne? We recommend certain ones for that ‘wow’ effect.”
“What’s the nicest champagne you have?”
“The Dom Perignon 2006 if I am not mistaken, you could also ask our sommelier who has more knowledge about our wines and champagnes. Of course, there’s the Krug and Cristal.”
All of our cocktail banter left me famished, and I used this as a chance to order their mushroom arancini and an incredibly high-end version of what was essentially the finest, most nuanced grilled ham and cheese sandwich I have ever eaten. The arrival of the food included a side of green olives, sweet pecans, and radish. It was exactly what I needed to fuel me for yet another round of drinks.
The energy suddenly shifted when I felt the presence of two twenty-something males enter the room. Without turning my head, the two men walked up the short staircase beside me to a corner booth. Nice choice. They immediately asked for someone called David, who I gathered was the sommelier as he began to rush back and forth to bring them an array of bottles to sample.
Jazz music playing in the background started to get louder and as if out of nowhere, David came over to introduce me to the two mysterious men in the corner. I was called to their table to enjoy a bottle of 2009 Baron de L Pouilly-Fume. Of course, the first and only time I’ve been invited to drink a bottle of red like this was in a corner booth at The Milestone Hotel. I pause to think: This is the officially most west-London thing that has ever happened.
I was in a flurry of flavors when I got to talking to Alicem and Alex, both entrepreneurs from Istanbul. The two own a coffee shop and brewery in Richmond and visit The Milestone occasionally after dinner for a nightcap. “I just live around the corner,” explained Alex. “Don’t tell anyone about my secret place. I come here once a week, maybe twice a month. David is the best sommelier in London.”
Minutes later, David finished his shift and joined us. He went on to tell us more about wine as he pointed, nodded, and shook his head at certain items on the menu while Giorgio and Giacomo brought us bottles out from the back room. We were getting serious insider treatment and just when I thought it couldn’t get any more fabulous, we were joined by a gorgeous, statuesque woman called Ecem. In four-inch booties, a backless long-sleeved top, and a diamante bum-bag Ecem was all limbs. It just so happened that Ecem was also celebrating her 24th birthday that night, and ipso facto, another giant bottle of champagne was brought out.
Upon request, guests can choose from a selection of cigars to enjoy while they have a drink. I am not a smoker but after being treated like royalty, it was impossible to say no to anything I was being offered. Ecem was, of course, a model from Turkey, looking to do some work in London. We immediately bonded over the fact that tonight was a beautifully random and perfect birthday for her.
As the clocks started to approach 2 AM, I wondered how many more drinks I could handle as I requested to put the volume of the music up. Giacomo and Giorgio obliged as we turned what only hours ago was a discreet, quiet bar into something, well, quite the opposite.
Realizing I hadn’t checked my phone all night, I noticed it was past 3 AM.
“Where are you guys going? Stay for another drink!” we enthused.
“We’re headed home, but you guys stay as long as you like,” they chimed.
“What time does this place close?” I asked
“Well. Technically, this bar never closes,” they said as they trailed off.