SB meets… Giuliano Morandin, The Bar at The DorchesterBy Alice Brooker
Last month, bar manager Giuliano Morandin celebrated 40 years working at The Bar at The Dorchester hotel, a fixture of London’s swanky Mayfair neighbourhood. We caught up with the industry veteran to learn about his career highlights and the bar’s 90th anniversary.
What are some of your highlights from working at The Dorchester?
In terms of job satisfaction, we had three different bartenders [in] three consecutive years win [the UK National Bartenders Guild Cocktail Competition]. I’m very proud of that, because it wasn’t the same person. It was pretty impressive. It is a team effort, it is everybody contributing. There is a saying which I very often refer to which is very old Greek. And it goes, ‘you don’t teach people to build ships, you teach them to love the sea’.
For me, drinks and cocktails are very important. But the most important [thing] is looking after people.
We’ve had lots of famous people come into the door. You know, most of the really big stars in the movie business, particularly from the States. [It used to be] a proper Italian five-star restaurant experience, which going back 30 years in London didn’t really exist. We had a Liberace piano and a dance floor. It was very popular. We had lots of movie stars in the hotel, and most of them used to come here.
What kind of famous faces have you seen while working at the bar?
One of my highlights was Princess Diana. Diana and Cindy Crawford… they were apparently good friends. And they came in one night, just sitting in a corner, and this is a story which I quite often refer to because it was really perfect. People would come in the bar and they’d see these two women… [the silence] was like going to church or the library.
What’s your favourite drink on the menu?
You know, if I had to choose I couldn’t, because they’re all good. They’re all different drinks suiting different palates at different times of the day. And there isn’t one in there which I wouldn’t drink and be able to drink. Every single one has got a story, a thinking process behind it.
The Perfect Ten [a Martini with Tanqueray No. Ten gin, Lillet Blanc and grapefruit bitters] is one of my very, very favourite drinks because it’s very simple. Sometimes bartenders go over the top – they have too much going on. It could defeat the object of the exercise.
The Dorchester celebrated its 90th birthday earlier this year. Do you have any plans for its 100th birthday?
Yeah, staying alive. You’re talking to an old man, you know?
What are you looking forward to in terms of the bar and your plans?
Well, there is gonna be a new bar coming up soon. Next year, in this very space. There’s going to be a lot of planning, it is going to be quite a place. We’re going to take everything out.
Has the pandemic changed the way that this bar operates?
Yes, I mean, even now as you can see, there are no bar stools. There is [only table service], because Covid is still around. And it was very difficult when you’re wearing a mask and your glasses steam up. But that wasn’t the worst. You know, like if you’re dealing with people and you cover up your face, it is no good. It’s amazing how much you communicate [without a mask] without even realising it.
How do you think this bar maintains its acclaimed status?
Because we take our job seriously. We love the job. And this has got a really good strong team. Simon, he’s been here 39 years. He just started about a year after me. There’s two other guys, [been here for] 20 years. We’ve had bartenders that have left for various reasons, but mostly didn’t want to leave either. So really, you come to work and you’re with your mates, you know, you go to work and you have fun.
And what’s your favourite night of the week to be here?
Any night, really. Because in here, you never know. I mean, like today, it’s Wednesday. If you came here an hour ago, I wouldn’t have a seat for you [laughs]. It is always unpredictable.
How are you feeling about Christmas at The Dorchester?
We’re looking forward to it. It shouldn’t be different to other Christmases. I think it’s probably going to be even more lively, because people haven’t had the opportunity to go out in a long time, you know, to celebrate. There’s a big question mark there, you know, like, Covid isn’t gone. But I think the human race gets on with things. But we shouldn’t shouldn’t take it too easy.
What’s your approach to sustainability and waste at the bar?
Do you know something? You’re probably not going to believe this. I come from a family where we lived in a house with two rooms, one downstairs and one upstairs.
One house, two families. And my mum, if you pick up a bread roll, take a piece off, you eat it. Because if she sees a piece of bread left over, she’ll bite your head off. If you don’t finish your food, no problem. You get it for dinner, you get it the day after.
I have always tried to run this bar, like it was my own – not just my own business, my own house, because I still now find it very distressing to see the waste. We don’t waste. If berries have gone a little bit mouldy, we dry them and make powder.
Tell me about the cocktail menu that was launched to mark the bar’s 90th anniversary?
We’re trying to [show] a connection. You know, like for instance, [we created] A Drink to Die For because Hitchcock said the Dorchester would be the perfect place to commit a murder, because you can bury the body in the park. And also this has more of a hint of smoke, which is the mezcal, because he was a great smoker, and it’s got brandy [in it] as well because he was a great brandy drinker. Every drink that we have has got a connection somewhere.