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This Italian Expat in London is Raising the Bar for Martinis to Extraordinary Heights

Where to get one of the best cocktails on the planet; an artist paints the incredible studios of other artists; and more global openings.

The Connaught Hotel’s Agostino Perrone, left, with Giorgio Bargiani. Photo: Courtesy Phaidon

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This Italian Expat in London is Raising the Bar for Martinis to Extraordinary Heights

When it comes to martinis, there’s one man who arguably serves one of the best in the world: the highly decorated bartender Agostino Perrone, who leads the bar at the five-star Connaught hotel in London’s tony Mayfair district. Under his watchful eye, the bar has taken first prize in the World’s 50 Best Bars list and won nearly every award in the industry besides. Hailing from Lake Como, where he first cut his teeth bartending to get by as a student, Perrone has made a name for himself mixing drinks ever since he arrived in London 20 years ago. Together with Giorgio Bargiani, who joined the Connaught in 2014 and this year was named international bartender of the year by industry authority Tales of the Cocktail, the two mixologist maestros have rewritten the rules of the traditional hotel bar. “We were the very first bar in the traditional establishment to inject creativity, yet respecting the style of service and attention to details,” says Perrone. “We wanted to bring those things together. After we did this, so many others opened with the same aim of trying to be classy but also innovative.”

Sometimes coming up with 10 new drinks a month for a constantly rotating menu, they have successfully married the creativity of a cocktail bar with meticulous hospitality and a bit of Italian warmth. The recently opened Red Room, an attractive wine lounge, is a more living-room-like counterpart in which to enjoy the world’s finest wines. Take it from Perrone and Bargiani, then, how to assemble the perfect cocktail. Their new book, The Connaught Bar: Recipes and Iconic Creations(Phaidon), shares a hundred of their coveted recipes for a DIY world-class cocktail from home.

In the industry of dining and drinking, Perrone and Bargiani’s North Star is their ethos of hospitality. The goal is to be memorable—“not because we had sparkles in our cocktail, but because you felt good, you felt special,” says Perrone. This motto is reflected in their drinks. Their signature martini, for example, is prepared typically by Perrone himself on a trolley in front of the guest, who gets to pick from a selection of bitters. “We give people time,” says Bargiani. “Nobody has time in this city, but we always find time to explain our martini and put the guest as the protagonist of it.”

By revealing the recipes for their iconic creations in a book, Perrone and Bargiani hope that others get to know the art behind cocktail preparation. The directions for this aromatized martini are outlined in the book, as well as twists on classics (the Bloody Mary is finished with “celery air”), eccentricities (the Ellipsis features milk punch and kombucha), and more labor-intensive recipes (the tomato-skin-infused Japanese gin requires 24 hours to prepare for Give It the Green Light). Perrone outlines the inspiration that led to each invention, which ranges from the Mediterranean sun and Goodfellas to Bentley automobiles and bumblebees. “It’s not a geeky bartender book,” Perrone promises; there’s something for the curious bartender, mere cocktail lover, or fan of beautiful coffee-table books. Their last bit of advice? To judge a good bar, check the ice. “When you see the ice is not good quality,” says Perrone, “just go for champagne or maybe a good craft beer.”

Painter Damian Elwes. Photo: Courtesy Unit London

The Painter That Brings Studios to Life; Modernism in Ukraine; and Virtual Reality Sculptures

London, “Damian Elwes: Studio Visit” (Opens July 7)
An artist’s studio is a sacred space. These intimate creative worlds have become the fascination of British painter Damian Elwes, who has painted at least 200 of them, from Basquiat’s paint-speckled New York studio to Frida Kahlo’s home studio in Mexico City. When he can’t paint the real thing, Elwes faithfully reconstructs it with research and a bit of imagination. Through details like flowers in a vase or haphazard spray cans, he paints a distinctive portrait of each artist. This show presents some of his newest works, including the studios of Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama, and Roy Lichtenstein.

Munich, “Andy Warhol & Keith Haring: Party of Life” (Until Jan. 26)
The pop stars of New York’s art scene, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring were close friends and collaborators. Their shared anti-elitist attitude redefined what was considered to be fine art. The father of Pop Art was a source of inspiration and mentorship for Haring—Warhol was a big supporter of Haring’s Pop Shop, radical because it sold his art at low prices in an effort to make it accessible to the general public. In the first comprehensive exhibit dedicated to the two, 120 of their works and collaborations are brought together with film, photography, and archival material, delivering a healthy dose of ’80s nostalgia.

New York, “Yoko Matsumoto: Darkness Against Nature” (Until Aug. 23)
Japanese painter Yoko Matsumoto typically paints on large canvases lying flat on the floor, producing free-form abstract works that play with color and hue. “It’s manual labor, pure and simple, with no time to question,” she has said. “The work doesn’t allow me to think, and with no time to think I become one with the painting.” She returns to New York—where she first discovered acrylic paint and raw-cotton canvas unavailable to her in Japan in the late ’60s—for the first time in nearly 30 years, with a solo exhibit featuring her signature “pink” acrylic works and her oil paintings and watercolors of late.

London, “In the Eye of the Storm: Modernism in Ukraine” (Until Oct. 13)
This traveling exhibit is coming to London, promising to be the UK’s most comprehensive exhibition on modern art in Ukraine. The modernist movement in Ukraine took place while political turmoil engulfed the country in the early 1900s—amid World War I, the struggle for independence, and the establishment of Soviet Ukraine in 1922. The exhibit examines the evolving artistic movements and the country’s cultural identity in this period of tumult with paintings, sketches, and theater designs by artists like Kazymyr Malevych, Sonia Delaunay, Alexandra Exter, and El Lissitzky.

Venice, “Eric Fischl: Bathers” (Until Aug. 17)
An example of the good that can come from marrying technology with art, this show by American painter and sculptor Eric Fischl transforms his beach bathers (which he normally paints) into life-size bronze sculpture with virtual reality technology. First painted in VR, these figures are made “real” by traditional casting techniques.

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