London Cocktail Week 2014 returned for a fifth year and ran from 6 – 12 October 2014 and over the course of the week, 200 partnering bars across the city created one special cocktail each to offer to wristband wearers for only £4. There were also masterclasses and special events running across the city.
Well, you don’t have to convince to me to drink cocktails (especially cheap ones). So, we purchased wristbands (£10 if bought early and £15 normally) and examined the guidebook to pick out the bars we wanted to visit over the course of the week.
It was a great opportunity to discover some of the bars that have been on my radar for a while but hadn’t yet had the chance to visit and also to revisit an old favourite. So here’s my round up of the places we visited over the course of the week.
Opened only this summer, London Cocktail Week was the perfect opportunity to visit The Alchemist for the first time. Located on Bevis Marks, it’s the perfect venue for after work drinks for city workers. Based around a central bar area (there’s a restaurant area in the back of the venue), the bar is full of big Chesterfields and also lots of standing space, which was less important on the Tuesday night we visited but would have been great on a busier night (although they could have done with a few more spaces to set drinks down on).
The cocktail on offer at the Alchemist was the Loire Lady which was Chambord blended with grapefruit vodka, dry and sweet vermouths and citrus bitters.They were all heated over little bunsen burners before being poured into conical flasks and over dry ice which had a phenomenal effect and which made me wish that school science had been as fun.
When some of the wonderful dry ice fog (which had a great sweet aroma) subsided, we were ready to pour it into your glass and over cubed ice where it continued to mist in a slightly spooky way. It would be the perfect Halloween cocktail.
A complete showstopper of a cocktail and definitely the kind of drink that would impress!
Discount Suit Company
An old favourite which I wrote about here, Discount Suit Company is a wonderful subterranean bar hidden in the midst of streets which, whilst bustling with market stalls by day, are quiet and abandoned by night. It’s also on my way home from work (how lucky am I?).
The London Cocktail Week cocktail at Discount Suit Company was the Pan-American Clipper (Calvados, fresh lime juice, fresh grenadine with an Absinthe rinse), a classic dating back from at least 1939. My boyfriend declared this the best cocktail he’d ever had. To be fair, I knew even before we tasted it that he’d like it as it contained his sort of ingredients. Personally I prefer a sweeter, fruitier cocktail and so whilst he had a second, I chose a Have a Heart which was gin, Swedish punsch, grenadine and lime, much more to my taste (although very similar in appearance).
Discount Suit Company is the sort of place you descend into on a cold and wet winter afternoon before spending the afternoon getting comfy and steadily warm and tipsy.
I first heard about Cecil’s through the Nudge (seriously, if you’re in London and not signed up for the Nudge, do it now!) and have been looking for a reason or occasion to visit ever since. When their website describes them as being tucked away in the back alleys of London Bridge, they mean it. As I dragged my boyfriend down a dark and rather empty back street he looked slightly apprehensive about where we were going and to be honest, there was a moment when I doubted where we were going myself, it was only the sight of two people lurking at a door that gave my confidence and we were reassured to discover that we had found Cecil’s. We were led down candle-lit stairs by someone professing to be Cecil and headed to the bar to order the Vintage Breakfast Cocktail (Grand Marnier, vodka, freshly squeezed pink grapefruit and lemon juices and a dollop of orange and tangerine marmalade shaken with fresh egg white and a spritz of peach bitters).
All of the tables were taken or were reserved but we found ourselves a space and enjoyed our drinks. There was a DJ the night we went but the place is set up for live music too. The whole place definitely had a proper speakeasy feel, I felt like at any moment the place could be raided and we’d all have to scatter for the exits. Every Saturday night they run Uff Tea experiences where they bring 1930s Shanghai to London (with an appropriate dress code) which just sounds like so much fun.
Call Me Mr Lucky
Everyone raves about The Breakfast Club but I’m really not happy about ever being awake in the morning, let alone wanting to queue for food before I’ve even had a cup of tea. Of greater appeal are their hidden underground bars, although, for my shame, I’ve never made it to one of those either.Recently The Breakfast Club opened in London Bridge, within easy proximity of work and so after dinner in Southwark we headed to The Breakfast Club. We turned up, explained we were there for London Cocktail Week and uttered the magic words to get us access to the bar downstairs – ‘I’m here to get lucky’. Apparently we were the first London Cocktail Weekers to actually know the password (although the waitress might have just been flattering us), a more common response to the hint of ‘I’m here to get…’ being ‘drunk’.
We were ushered through the restaurant, down some stairs, past the kitchen and into an underground bar (the theme for the week was clearly underground bars) lit by strings of fairy lights. We went on a Thursday night and although the place had a nice busy vibe, we got a seat at the bar and ordered drinks.
Our cocktail at Call Me Mr Lucky was the appropriately named Lucky Ducky which was Bathtub Gin, pear, blackberries, coconut water and fresh grapefruit and apple juices. The Guide described it as being served from a punch bowl, which it wasn’t but it was still good. It was deep and heavy and wintery and perfect for the cold damp night we’d chosen for our exploits.
Half an hour in Call Me Mr Lucky and I was ready to go out dancing. Sadly with work the next day and definitely unprepared, it was not a night for dancing, so we called it a night and headed home. It’s on my list of places to start a night south of the river though.
Peg and Patriot
I’ve been meaning to visit the Peg and Patriot, located in the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green for a while and so what better idea than combining it with lunch at the Typing Room (a restaurant I’ve been dying to visit for a while as well)?After a wonderful lunch (more on that soon), we headed across the hall to the Peg and Patriot. Predictably for early on a Saturday afternoon, the place was fairly quiet, although it did start to get busier and the afternoon wore on.
We settled down and order the special, the Cocchi Rhyming Slang (Americano, Tio Pepe, Maraschino liquor and orange bitters).I ordered a second, whereas my boyfriend (apparently in a nod to his family’s mining heritage) ordered a Doncaster Miners Club Cocktail which came in a little Yorkshire glass with a sprig attached to the rim by a mini peg. Both were delicious. It was also a nice touch that we were also served water without asking and in those little glasses that I haven’t seen anywhere other than primary school.
They were the perfect after dinner drinks and it’s definitely somewhere I’ll be visiting again for a drink at some point to try out some more of their menu.
East London Liquor Company
Rather than head straight home after our lunch at the Typing Room and drinks at Peg and Patriot we decided to take the scenic route and stop by the East London Liquor Company on the way. Located only a stone’s throw from Victoria Park, this bar is located rather oddly on a little industrial estate. Spacious and open, the back of the bar houses a distillery which produces a variety of spirits.
It’s a much lighter and airy venue than Peg and Patriot and so I became very conscious that it was late afternoon on a Sunday and I was already slightly tipsy and about to order another cocktail. But, I didn’t dwell on it too much as the bartender whipped up two Darjeeling Sours which used their own gin.
They were the perfect light and summery end to our Saturday afternoon and we strolled home in the gorgeous afternoon sun to have a little nap.
So that was my rather cocktail-fuelled week. I wish that the whole thing could have lasted longer as there were a whole load of places I wanted to try out but there’s only so much bar-hopping you can do over the course of one week and still be a productive human being at work.
Although, of course, there’s nothing stopping me from going and trying out those bars, I just need to make some time to do it. I’d love to hear about your favourite bars and cocktail spots in London, let me know if there’s somewhere I should definitely be trying out!