As many of you may well know – because of your continuous hangover – last week was London Cocktail Week (LCW). This meant that for seven days only hundreds of bars across the city were selling a selection of signature cocktails for £5; a dream come true for Londoners who enjoy a tipple or two.
I’ve wanted to take part in LCW for years, so I signed up for my wristband and created a list of around 50 bars I wanted to visit.
Unfortunately, the first rule of this boozy festival is that you have to be realistic when planning your drinking expedition. Taking heart, Kasha and I created a plan to visit four of the bars in the Soho, Covent Garden and Mayfair area that we were most desperate to visit.
Collecting wristbands was easy, we headed straight to Phonica Records in Poland Street and after a short wait in the queue we were able to grab them downstairs. The record shop is also the hub for many of the events, bartender masterclasses, a world class bar and plenty of luxury spirit experiences.
The Blind Pig
However, we had our eyes set firmly on another venue, the Blind Pig. This drinking den is the kind of exclusive speakeasy you always hope to stumble across. Located directly underneath a vintage red ‘Opticians’ sign, the venue occupies the top floor of the celebrated Social Eating House. It took a subtle bit of bluffing to get in without a booking, which suffice to say was well worth the effort. A slick, cosy bar with pleasing vintage décor; the Blind Pig is the ideal place to hide out from the busy streets below.
The offering for London Cocktail Week was two carefully created libations: the Blind Pig Snakebite and the Canhattan. The latter was a deliciously blended Manhattan – complete with cherry – which arrived in a sealed tin. The Pig Snakebite – which was clearly a nod to the growing trend of beer and cider cocktails – had a fantastic sweet favour which brilliantly offset the strength of the Monkey Shoulder whiskey in the blend.
Verdict: Subtle, clever and fun. The bartenders have clearly made the extra effort here to craft out some exciting drinks that reflect the atmosphere of the bar. So far, a great start to my alcoholic adventure round London.
The Cocktail Trading Company
Next up was the West End wonder known as the Cocktail Trading Company. A little hard to find (because Google Maps will direct you a nearby bin refuse area) the bar is actually located in the basement of Central and Co restaurant. Finding a place to prop up the bar wasn’t hard here, and the bartenders are more than welcoming to everyone arriving. Reflecting their reputation for proving some of the wackiest yet most delicious cocktails in London, the bar had an extra special drink on offer for the festival.
Wrapped up in newspaper and topped with salt and vinegar chip shaped crisps, Feelin’ Chipper was one of the finest and most bizarre drinks I’ve ever tasted. The helpful bartender explained that each element was created to mimic the taste of potato without actually using potato. I don’t quite know how it worked, but it tasted bloody amazing. Clearly designed to provide a hit of fish & chip shop nostalgia, the drink even smelt a bag of chips!
Verdict: All hail the mixologist! The bartenders have gone above and beyond for LCW, giving a clear example of just how fun and creative their awesome bar can be. I can’t wait to go back and explore the rest of the menu.
Our next stop would see us hotfoot to one of Soho’s most sophisticated drinking establishments. Archer Street is famed for providing a classy place to relax, think soft cushions, perfumed candles and comfy poufs. What I didn’t realise before coming was that the bar is solely manned by staff with a theatrical flair. It wasn’t until the lady who checked in my coat (note: the no bag policy is pretty dam strict here) began belting out Rhianna like a pro that I realised I was somewhere quite unique.
While the interior may have all the charm of a private club, the all singing bar staff who jump on the tables to perform their songs transform the venue into a swinging karaoke joint. Archer Street’s offering for LCW was the Breakfast at Teaffany’s. Held in an elegant tea cup, the sweet, bitter and creamy concoction really hit the mark.
Verdict: This cocktail matched the surrounds perfectly. A classy drink served in an elegant vessel made for an enjoyable drinking experience watching the bar staff belt out big hits to rapturous applause.
Our final bar for the evening was the one I was most excited to visit. Having drank at The Worship Street Whistling Shop I was keen to see if Tristan Stephenson’s first bar, Purl would live up to its reputation. Dubbing itself as a ‘multi-sensory’ bar serving up cocktails that use ‘Fogs’, ‘Airs’ and ‘Foams’ I was excited to see what this establishment would dish up to the thirsty LCW drinkers.
Occupying a basement space under a Marylebone greasy spoon café, Purl has all the hallmarks that make speakeasies so appealing. The relaxed atmosphere and secret(ish) location makes it feel exclusive and private while moodily lit warren of rooms are littered with retro antiques like candlestick telephones, frilled lampshades and mini-chandeliers. Unfortunately, the drink on offer for LCW did not meet my expectations. Their offering, the Absolutly Dirty, was a blend of Absolut Elyx vodka and sherry garnished with a caper was clearly intended as a twist on a Dirty Martini. While this clearly served to highlight the quality of the hero spirit, there was little other flavour to enjoy. A mouthful of this tasted only of vodka, no notes of sherry and no flavour of brine; magical this was not.
Verdict: Expecting a cutting edge cocktail with all the theatrics of dry ice, fancy vessels and molecular mixology was too ambitious for our £5 LCW drinks. While all around us patrons were enjoying fancy looking creative cocktails, our flavourless cups of vodka made us feel a little hard done by. The whole point of London Cocktail Week is surely to showcase the best attributes of the bar with a hero drink? Regrettably the Absolutly Dirty smacked of little if no effort on this front.
After visiting four of the most popular cocktail bars in London, it was the Cocktail Trading Company that most impressed me. The welcoming atmosphere, paired with a truly imaginative drinks menu mean these guys are revolutionising London’s drinking scene and raising the bar for venues across the city.
Did you visit some bars during London Cocktail Week? If so share your experience by commenting below!
Need more cocktail inspiration? Check out the 3rd best bar in the world, the Old Street secret speakeasy known as Nightjar.