Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Speak Easy Comes to London, by Helena Fleur Rea, associate editor of This Little Lady...

Over at This Little Lady, we like nothing better than a good cocktail at the end the day. It is the perfect way to catch up with your friends or to kick off a first date if you’re both a bit nervous. But good is the operative word here. While nearly every bar in London will offer you a “cocktail” of some description these days, it is possible that they may consist of over mixed and bitter Mojitos made with fake lime juice, or Sex on the Beaches’ that are basically a blend of over-sweet concentrate fruit juice and little else. 

It is a travesty that, when London is home to some of the best cocktail bars in the world, people are still settling for unacceptable drinks. A great cocktail should be made with fresh ingredients, with patience, skill and love and will be perfectly balanced. In London, places serving fantastic cocktails are in abundance, you’ve just got to know where to look. With this in mind, I’m going to celebrate all the things I love about brilliant cocktails and share some of my secret hangouts for you just in time for a brand spanking new year!

To begin with though, there are two tips that I would offer that are essential for truly appreciating all that the London cocktail scene has to offer. The first is to have a benchmark cocktail. Every establishment claiming to be a cocktail bar should have staff who are well trained. This means that even if classic cocktails aren’t on the menu, they should know how to make them – and well. Every time I go into a new bar, I order my benchmark. This means I can instantly judge the skill of the person making it. Because it’s something I’ve had a hundred times before, I know exactly what it should taste like. If it is great, I will then go off-piste and try the house cocktails. If it’s really not, I will stick to a glass of wine or straight spirits. My benchmark is an Amaretto Sour because I have a sweet tooth, but the best to use is probably an Old Fashioned (also Don Draper’s favourite so pretty cool).

The second is to sit at the bar and be sociable. There is a huge amount of skill required for creating the perfect cocktail (I should know having made some shocking ones myself over the years). Show the bartenders the respect they deserve and give them some time. It is likely they will have trained for years and will have a vast amount of fascinating booze-related knowledge. Watch how they make your drink. Ask them what they’re doing. Get to know them. Find out what their signature cocktail is. If you’re ordering a round of shots, get them to do one with you. If you’ve put in the time with the bartenders and showed an interest in what they’re doing, chances are that when you next return they will remember your name and what you drink.  Make friends with them and who knows, they may even let you try some cheeky concoctions on the house.

This is also a great way to find out about new openings. The industry is actually very small and all of the best bartenders in town are friends with each other. They will usually happily point you in the direction of a cool new bar that one of their mates has started working at or managing. Remember that no one gets into the drinks industry if they don’t like to have a good time so the people are fun! Enjoy their company and get involved. Oh, and don’t call them mixologists. They do not like this.

Now that bit is out of the way, here are a few of my favourite little bars in London. I am a fan of the hidden little places that you’d probably never find unless someone takes you there, so I’ll save you the time of trying to find them yourself. You can find full reviews on all of these places over at Enjoy!

Hidden down a little cobbled alleyway off Bond Street, this is still one of my favourite places  in London despite me having propped up the bar here since I was about 19. They have a low turnover of staff which means it’s easy to get to know everyone and all of them are super friendly. I still think these are the best lychee martinis in town, and if you’re enjoying yourself a little too much you can always head downstairs to the nightclub for a dance.

This little gem in Marylebone opened early in the year as has been in full swing ever since. It has the same feel as some of my favourite speakeasies in town in terms of being secretive and hidden, but this one isn’t hard to get in to provided you don’t turn up too late (they get busy – if they’re at capacity, not even the Queen could blag her way in). Enjoy live music while you sip amazing blackberry infused bourbon. The d├ęcor is a mix of parasols, miss matched furniture and sewing machines strewn around. Throw some unashamed shapes on the dance floor and take advantage of the full-on house party vibe.

An old grey door with peeling paint, tucked between two Chinese restaurants of dubious quality on Gerrard Street hides one of the slickest cocktail bars in town. Walk upstairs and, depending on the day, you might find live jazz going on or a gorgeous girl on the decks. Beautiful people sip expertly blended cocktails out of crystal coupes and enjoy each other’s company. ECC stands for the Experimental Cocktail Club so don’t be afraid to be adventurous when ordering. It will be worth it.

This place is brand spanking new and only opened last week. It is tucked away in the old luggage room of the Marriot Hotel in Grosvenor Square, but can be accessed through a sneaky side door. Again, this place is very slick. The staff are dressed in bow ties and braces or flapper dresses and 1920s music plays in the background to take you back to the era of the Bentley Boys. Sit at the beautiful marble bar and try one of their martinis.

This is a firm favourite of mine since it re-opened about a year ago. An original rock star’s den where Jimmy Hendrix played his first ever gig and legends like Stevie Wonder and The Who graced the tiny stage when it first opened back in the 1960’s. They have amazing bands play on Monday Tuesday nights, but beware, this place is so much fun that you will lose track of time, and they close at 5am which is just great for all of us who have to be in the office at 9am the next day! Don’t look too corporate and put your best charm tactics to work. This has been called the hardest door to cross in London, but I assure you, it can be done. 

Helena Fleur Rea is the associate editor of This Little Lady, the lifestyle and fashion blog that has set London alight since its launch in 2009. This Little Lady was set up as a personal blog back in 2009, became more London focused and has now settled somewhere in between the two. JJ and her team of marvellous contributors try their very best to keep you up to date with all the best things happening in London; events, parties, nightclubs, restaurants, art, exhibitions, gigs, festivals and just about everything else. We aren’t looking to write about everything that’s happening. Just the good stuff.


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