The Whip at The Running Horse Pub
50 Davies Street, London, W1K 5JE
Tel: 020 7493 1275
Nearest Tube: Bond Street
Monday to Saturday, 12-11pm
Hunter S Thompson’s famous Kentucky Derby inkings were in my mind last Saturday as I climbed the stairs to The Whip in Mayfair – a newly opened bar which carries on the equestrian theme of partner operation, The Running Horse (located downstairs). Brandishing some serious bourbons, the menu is a mouthwatering selection of Derby classics – Mint Juleps were in order, and The Whip’s elegantly styled confines were a suitable location.
Enter the modestly scaled lounge and you’ll find the walls painted with Jockey Silk-inspired pat-terns, snug Chesterfields atop the distressed wooden floor, and the place glittering with silver julep cups in the hands of costumed punters. It’s all very jazz-age; Scott Fitzgerald would have sat comfortably nursing a Sazerac by the £80,000 pound horse painting at the end of the bar.
Far from the haze of debauchery depicted by Thompson, things were off to a very civil start. The smart wooden bar was piled high with julep cups, jugs of cucumber water, and a soda syphon, all of which was pleasingly impressive whilst unpretentious.
I quickly ordered my favourite test of any bartender’s mettle – an Old-Fashioned. The simple cocktail will easily betray poor ingredients or lazy methods, but the fresh-faced bartender made it well with Rittenhouse 100 Proof – a potent, peppery rye which rendered the resultant drink savoury and bittersweet. The generously proportioned mix was buttery and zesty, and became better still as the ice melted. Really rather good.
The room was full as there was a party in full but polite swing, and we were assured that standard fare was seated table service. It was far from overcrowded, however, and the atmosphere, supported by jazzy tones on the PA, was convivial and warm. We were handed glasses of chilled cucumber water, which was a lovely, palate-cleansing touch.
About halfway through Thompson’s Kentucky Derby article, he and artist Ralph Steadman suddenly find themselves lost in the animalistic, raucous stands at Churchill Downs, Kentucky. Hunter warned Ralph that the crowds would be wild, “getting angrier and angrier as they lost more and more money. By mid afternoon they’[d] be guzzling mint juleps with both hands”.
I looked around at The Whip, where things remained courteous and well-mannered; it was high time for Juleps. Rather delightfully, the first two pages of the menu contain only julep variations, as well as three-part instructions on tackling the strainer-cup-combo for the uninitiated – presumably after a disastrous loss of bourbon and ice all over one of the old Persian rugs.
I opted for a classic Mint Julep, whilst my other half went for the rum- and port-flavoured Winter Julep. Both came beautifully presented in traditional silver cups, strainers poised neatly on top of heaps of crushed ice, garnished with neat little sprigs of fresh mint, hers with a grating of nutmeg.
My Mint Julep, made with Woodford Reserve, was balanced and very fine. Each year the Kentucky Derby serves 120,000 of the things over two days, and you’ll find Woodford in most of them. It is, after all, the official bourbon of the Derby, and is handsomely fit for task.
The recipe is straightforward, but over-munificence with sugar and it’s game over. Topped with soda from the old-fashioned soda syphon and very fresh mint, it was authentic and made with passion.
The Winter Julep was something else entirely, possibly the best drink of the evening. Based on a rather delicious dark rum, and laced with port and freshly grated nutmeg, the effect was a chocolatey mouthfeel delivering a rich, multi-layered palate of spice and dark fruit. Really sublime, it was made with premium ingredients which justified the £10 price-tag.
The subtle, easy decor at The Whip creates a relaxed vibe. The drinks are posh, but the experience is accessible and comfortable, and whilst every other bar in town is doing its damnedest to transport you back in time to the speakeasy era, if not earlier, The Whip does it quietly and unaffectedly.
The drinks aren’t cheap, and despite ordering whilst standing up at the bar, the bill listed a non-discretionary 12.5% service charge. £50 for four cocktails (three of which from the standard repertoire) might be enough to put some off. However, the friendly barstaff, quality of the ingredients and unique ambience renders The Whip well worth the visit.
Hunter S Thompson fans looking for a “decadent and depraved” Derby evening may be disappointed with the refinement. The soda syphon, however, could perhaps be put to task as a safe alternative to the can of mace he used so wantonly…
Who’s it for? Bourbon lovers, Gatsbys great and small, anyone who owns a Panama and a pair of wingtips.
Why go? Authentically made, classic American cocktails. And the spirits selection…
My favourite thing: There is an £80,000 painting of a horse.
Average drink price: £10, plus 12.5% service change.