Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tippling in Jolly Old London

In honor of the Summer Olympics, which started last night, I've decided to finally start posting about our time in London. Well, my time visiting Dayne for two weeks while he worked a couple of months there last summer. Even back then, the city was excited about the upcoming games.

Let's start with the most fun stuff, the drinking!

I took the EuroStar from Paris and waited for Dayne, who was arriving on a later train, also from Paris (story for another time), at what is billed as the "Longest Champagne Bar" in Europe. Searcy's is good for a glass of bubbles and a perfect place to meet someone at St. Pancras station, but the bar wraps around in a typical U-shape and doesn't really seem all that long.

The first real cocktail stop we made was at the Nightjar Bar near Shoreditch. This is the most amazing spot, I'm truly in love with what they do. We sat up at the bar, and as it was right when they opened and not too busy yet, we had a great time chatting with the bartenders. Each cocktail is made expertly, but what really sets them apart are the accouterments. My summer punch was topped with a small bushel of summer fruit, all of it cascading down the the side of the glass. Another drink, containing egg white, had the half egg shell attached to the glass by a small clothes pin and in it was a small amount of grenadine so that I could sweeten the cocktail as I saw fit. All this garnishing does take time but we felt it was entirely worth the wait.

We also visited Bam-Bou for a few drinks before having dinner at near-by Pied a Terre one night. The drinks here were good and if you are in the area I'd recommend heading up the crazy, steep staircase to the bar, 5 flights up. Not a destination spot but solid drinks near the British Museum.

Just across St John Square is the Zetter Townhouse, a quirky boutique hotel with a fantastic cocktail lounge. This was another really good cocktail stop with unique drink ingredients like gunpowder tea tincture and port evaporation. It's a lively stop and perfect for a small group, which we were.
(*Update 7/29/12 ZTH was awarded "Best New Cocktail Bar" last night at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. I'm not kidding when I say go there!)

The folks behind ZT first made a name for themselves at their bar, 69 Colebrook Row. It's a rite of passage for cocktail geeks, to sit at Tony Conigliaro's bar, with bartender's resembling scientists, and enjoy these wonderfully simple but excellent libations. The two of us being these kind of geeks were happy, and would happily return.

A cocktail or a glass of champagne at the Connaught Bar, in the hotel of the same name, is really a wonderful afternoon treat. The Mayfair neighborhood is posh, the hotel is lovely and the customer service is top notch. This sweet spot is on my list to always hit in London.
(*Update 7/29/12 The Connaught Bar won "Best Cocktail Bar" at last night's Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. That is in the WORLD. Put it on your list.)

On Old Compton Street is the mainstay of LAB (London Academy of Bartenders) which feels a little like a fun-house of cocktails. Pages and pages of drink options, many a bit on the sweet and/or wacky side, but it's a good stop if you are in the area and the bartenders are very nice and happy to give recommendations.

Just down the street from LAB, on Brewer, is one of the Hix restaurant and bars. This one has Mark's Bar in the lower lever which, besides making delicious cocktails, also has these amazing brandied cherries that you can buy and take home. Which we did. And now we are out of.

Hidden away in Chinatown, behind an unmarked door, is the local outpost of Paris' Experimental Cocktail Club. You can book in advance for ECC London but they keep room for walk-in's should you find yourself in the area. We loved sitting at the bar here, and finding out that our bartender Jeff was from Vancouver and knew a lot of the same folks we did, made for a great conversation. But the drinks are really the star. I've always enjoyed the cocktails in Paris, I enjoyed them here and I'd love to get to the NYC location next!
And finally, in the new hot neighborhood of Shoreditch, is Callooh Calley. If I lived in London I'd be at this bar weekly. With a comic book as it's menu (changes seasonally), highly inventive cocktails and a laid back vibe, it is just a damn fun and comfortable spot for a drink. If you are a member of the JubJub club you also have access to a private hideaway, entered through a wardrobe- natch. And on Sunday's it's game night. But watch out for the Jenga match as it could be hazardous to your drink!
(*edit 7/29/12 Callooh Calley won "World's Best Cocktail Menu" at last night's Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. See? They rock!)

If you have time while in London be sure to hit up The Whiskey Exchange, not just for whiskey lovers, this booze Disneyland is housed in Vinopolis and has amazing collections of wines, liquors and champagnes. They also have interactive displays and tastings that you can sign up for. And you can shop, there are many delicious things to shop for.

London photo album here

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