The Nightjar is a nocturnal bird, often camouflaged due to its mottled plumage; an apt symbol for this illicit underground drinking den.
The fevered mutterings about this basement bar have recently reached an all-time high, especially since the establishment’s most recent accolade by Drinks International as the 3rd best bar in the world.
Boasting old-school glamour, live music and cocktails with a nod to the Prohibition era, Nightjar effortlessly incites intrigue. As part of their Bloggers Guide to London, I was asked by the Millennium Group to pay the bar a visit, an offer I quickly accepted.
Would this mysterious bar really live up to the hype surrounding it, or would it be just another hipster hotspot frequented by moustachioed men in braces drinking cocktails from jam jars?
Located by the dizzying Old Street roundabout, you’d be forgiven for not spotting this bar straight away. I personally walked past this unassuming wooden door unnumberable times when I worked just down the road, oblivious of the drinking lair that lay below my feet.
Of course, mystery is all part of the excitement of these underground establishments. When you do find the passage leading to the bar, you must also pass the door staff before you are granted entry into the inner sanctum below. A quick radio conversation later and we were ushered down the shadowy stairwell to be greeted by a smiling host, and seated instantly.
Dark, sexy and intimate, the surrounds of Nightjar fit the Prohibition-era theme perfectly. The table we were seated at looked out onto the bar area, where three bartenders were busy shaking up some orders.
I managed to take a single picture before our host quickly explained that photos of staff are not allowed, as it distracts the bartenders. I remember hoping at this point, that the bartenders had a talent to match their diva like temperament, thankfully I was not disappointed.
We were both handed a drinks menu the size of a novella, listing the encyclopaedia of cocktails on offer. Decorated in golf leaf, the menu was divided into sections: Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Post-War and Nightjar signatures. For larger groups, a series of sharing cocktails, for drivers, non-alcoholic alternatives and for spirit snobs, a collection of vintage spirits that date back to Prohibition times.
The eclectic drinks selection is easier to navigate when you know what you are looking for: strong, modern, classic, creamy etc. but overwhelming nonetheless. Luckily, the host for our table was more than experienced in assisting our selection.
Opting for something creamy, I chose The Secret Cocktail. A boozy, fruity mix of gin, lemon, bitters grenadine and foamy egg white top this was easily the best drink I have had all year.
My drinking partner, Kasha, born with a sweet tooth, chose the Honey Smash. This intoxicating blend of honey liquor, watermelon, bee pollen syrup, ginger wine and elderberry liquor was topped with a ring of Polo mints that seeped a refreshing spearmint flavour as you drank. Both drinks were so excellent that I almost wanted to leave then and there, simply to savour the perfection.
Unsure of where to head next, our host suggested a Coalition for myself (because it’s strong and boozy) and the lighter Royal Dynasty for the missus.
I don’t know quite what the mixologists do behind the bar, but my second drink tasted like liquid gold. Comparable only to an Old-Fashioned, the stimulating, rich Coalition arrived on a bed of dry ice, served in a hip flask and with a metal straw. The strong, Caribbean whiskey blended seamlessly with lashings of gin, sherry and plum liquor.
The Royal Dynasty of the other hand was fruity, light and sweet, helped in the latter aspect by the presence of peach jam and fruit juice, in turn contrasting well with the earthy tequila.
By this point, we were suitably intoxicated, giggling and toe-tapping to the New Orleans style three-piece band performing smoky jazz numbers. Nightjar is undoubtedly a great place to people watch and has the fun, friendly fantastic atmosphere that other establishments would kill for.
To finish, we ordered the bubbling, steaming Forager’s Shrub, a palette cleansing blend of gin, oaky, earthy notes, sauvignon blanc and sugar syrup.
There is no pretence here, those that choose to visit expect – nay yearn – to be wowed by miraculous libations containing unheard of ingredients with names like yumberries, alligator pepper and Irish moss (note: these are all real ingredients). For the price of a drink in this bar you are transported into a hush-hush world of indulgent drinks and sharp jazz music.
The Nightjar more than lived up to its promise, blending Prohibition-era decadence with the service of the Savoy and a side garnish of magic. Creative, glamourous and most of all fun this bar will quite simply blow your mind.
If you’re looking to visit Nightjar, you can check out their website, but be sure to book well ahead and remember that there is a cover charge if you visit during the music.