With London Cocktail Week having kicked off, what better way than to celebrate than making your own concotions. Drink supremos Schweppes are hosting a secret bar experience in central London. Located in the quiet enclaves of St Martin’s Courtyard, guests will have the chance to learn the art of cocktail making with some of the best mixologists in the business.
For nine days, the pop-up bar will invite cocktail fans to explore the work of original alchemist, Jacob Schweppes and over 200 years of bubble-making. Guests can take part in the Schweppes Laboratory Experience, where they will be able to create their own sparkling drink. London’s experimental mixologists Smith & Sinclair will be sharing some of their secrets with the chance to see colour-changing gin and tonics to inhalable gin clouds. After mixing up a storm, participants will then head into the Schweppes secret study to relax with a new drink from the brand.
The pop-up is taking place during London Cocktail Week, which sees hundreds of the capital’s bars and restaurants taking part, offering masterclasses, workshops, tastings and £6 cocktails.
- Schweppes Alchemy Bar is open at 21 Slingsby Place, St Martin’s Courtyard, WC2E 9AB. Nearest stations: Covent Garden or Leicester Square. Open from 2-11 October 2017. Over 18s only. Tickets: £10 (includes three gin and tonic cocktails, plus immersive cocktail-making class. For booking, visit Eventbrite.
For a guide to what else is on in London in October, click here.
When it comes to finding a perfect bar, there’s two main things I look for – an extensive cocktail menu and a relatively low-key venue. I’m a sucker for speakeasies and hidden bars off the beaten track so I’m having a new experience and don’t feel I’m jostling for a spot at the bar with a big crowd. When it comes to whisky/whiskey, I’ve flirted with it in the past and am partial to a Bushmills and Coke when I’m visiting family in Ireland, but am yet to become a full whisky convert. However, after hearing of a new hidden Whisky bar in the heart of the City I went to check it out.
Merchant House of Fleet Street is the sister bar to Merchant House Of The City in Bow Lane, the latter being a gin and rum bar with 300 varieties of each. The newer Fleet Street branch focuses on whiskys and whiskeys instead, boasting over 500 different types, predominantly from Ireland and Scotland, but also some offerings from Japan and American Bourbons. To those less experienced whisky drinkers, like myself, there can be the preconceived notion the drink is dark, strong and heavy. However, the experienced mixologists of Merchant House of Fleet Street are here to change your mind, showcasing the fresh and floral side of the mighty Scotch.
The bar is located down Bride Court, a covered alley off Fleet Street dating back to the 18th century. The venue has a natural and contemporary feel, with a rustic wood and white marble bar, lots of plants and green velvet sofas and bar stools giving a subtle nod to the Highlands and Emerald Isle. Behind the bar are huge shelves showcasing the expansive whisky collection. My boyfriend (who happens to be a bit of a whisky aficionado) and I grabbed two stools at the bar as we were looking to experiment with flavours so wanted a seat near the action.
Before we began perusing the extensive menu, we enjoyed a shot of whisky for ‘Whisky Wednesday’ to kick things off. You’ll notice the menu doesn’t list any brands under the cocktail ingredients, just a rough description of the whisky so it means you focus on the flavours instead. I’m a bit of a sucker for floral flavours such as elderflower and rose so started with a Rose Without Thorns (Island Malt, Rosehip Water, Raspberry Cordial and Americano Rosa). It was quite different to any whisky cocktail I’d had before, sweet and light and went down really well. My companion opted for a Karyukai (Japanese whiskey, plum wine and smoked water), which involved the bartender getting out a blowtorch on the water – who doesn’t like a bit of bar theatrics?! Out of the three cocktails we would try that evening, my boyfriend said this was his favourite as he particularly liked the smoky flavour.
Next up, I continued the floral theme with an Émigré (Single Pot Still Whiskey, Bramley Apple Juice, Rhubarb and Elderflower) which came served with a big slice of rhubarb and tasted very dessert-like and I really enjoyed it. My boyfriend opted for something harder – a Sazerac (Cognac, Rye, Sugar, Bitters and Absinthe) which was served in a short glass – definitely one to be sipped slowly!
Finally, we finished with a Mulligan’s Travels (Poitin, Banana, Vanilla Ice Cream and Ginger Soda) and a Brooklyn (Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Picon and Maraschino). The Mulligan’s Travels was my first introduction to Poitin – essentially an Irish moonshine with potatoes as one of the ingredients. The bartender was happy to educate me and I tried a some of it straight before my cocktail. The strength hits you immediately, before the sweet after-taste comes in. When it came to the cocktail, it was somewhat of a hard shake thanks to its ingredients, with the sweetness overpowering the alcohol so it’s a good choice for those who don’t like their concotions too boozy tasting. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn was bittersweet mix served in a sherry glass, complete with maraschino cherry in the bottom.
Overall, it’s a fabulous bar for both whisky and cocktail fans alike. Those unfamiliar with whisky would do well to pay a visit and will be surprised at the variety of flavours in a whisky cocktail. For more seasoned whisky drinkers, with 500 to choose from, there’s more than enough choices to keep your glass topped up. When it came to the venue, the cosy space and the hidden location makes Merchant House particularly appealing. During our couple of hours in the bar, we were never without an empty glass thanks to the attentive and friendly bartenders, who certainly knew their stuff when it came to whisky and were happy to educate us. As well as cocktails, Merchant House also serves a small food menu and host whisky masterclasses if you want to delve in further.
- Merchant House of Fleet Street, 8 Bride Court, City of London, EC4Y 8DU. Nearest stations: City Thameslink, Blackfriars or St Paul’s. Open Mon-Fri 11am-11pm. For more information, visit the Merchant House of Fleet Street website.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar reviews, click here.
London Bridge and Borough is one of my favourite areas of London to socialise in. It’s got great transport links and is good for rendezvous to meet friends travelling all over the capital. Usually I end up in one of the traditional boozers around Borough Market, the dominant type of drinking venue in the area. I’ve always thought there wasn’t quite enough cocktail bars in the area, but that is gradually changing thanks to new hotspot Nine Lives.
A short walk (and a world away) from the commuter and tourist-centric pubs near the station is a new subterranean nightspot from the team behind Sweet&Chilli. The spacious Victorian basement on Holyrood Street has been turned into a cosy tropical space with low-lighting, cosy booths and wicker. As someone who is currently binge watching Mad Men on Netflix, I was drawn to the Sixties-influenced interiors. Although I visited with my best friend, my immediate thought upon entering the venue was how perfect it would be for a romantic date. Fortunately a booth was available – my seating of choice as they generally tend to be the most comfortable. We had a good view of the bar so could people watch and soak up the atmosphere.
Nine Lives is billed as a zero waste bar as they attempt to make the most of their ingredients. They use herbs and plants from their own garden, recycle water and put leftovers in the compost. Even the branded bamboo straws are reusable. The menu features four genres of cocktails – ‘Shorty’; ‘Long’; ‘Tarted Up’; and ‘Lowriders’, with prices around £6.50-£9.50 so affordable quality concotions. We started with some ‘Lowriders’ – the rather boozy Alright Blossom (Raspberry, Rose, Hibiscus and Prosecco) and Stingray (Port, Raspberry Liqueur, Citric acid, Mint). Alright Blossom was sweet and light thanks to its fragrant floral notes. The Stingray was rather different, with the Mint bringing a refreshing note to the heavier Port flavour. Next up, we went for something different and rather theatrical it turns out when the drinks were presented on our table. The Kuti Bird (Vodka, Tropical triple-sec, Pineapple and Aperol) is a very tropical mix and served in a Pacific Island-esque glass. My friend and I are big fans of Aperol and Vodka – although rarely drink them together – and found it an unusual strong mix of fruity and bitter, but it certainly went down well. However, I preferred the delicious Crossfire Hurricane (Rum, orange, lemon, pineapple, passion fruit, bitters), with the fruity flavours overpowering the rum.
During our evening, we had the right amount of attention from the friendly and knowledge bar staff who are passionate about their offerings and their ethos. As we were there on a weeknight, it was rather chilled, but Nine Lives really livens up at the weekend with DJs and live music. For me, the two main selling points were their zero waste policy and the good value menu. I’m getting so used to seeing quality cocktails in double figures these days, it was good to see prices more attractive to average Londoners. I’m definitely planning to head back for a weekend party session.
- Nine Lives, 8 Holyrood Street, London Bridge, SE1 2EL. Nearest station: London Bridge. Open Tues-Wed 5pm-12am, Thu-Sat 5pm-late. Closed Sun and Mon. For more information, visit the Nine Lives website.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar reviews, click here.
Disclaimer: Metro Girl was a guest of Nine Lives for this review. However my views are, as always, honest and my own.
I really like the idea of cafes that turn into cocktail bars and have started to make a byline for them in the past year. Earlier this year, iconic north London music venue The Garage had a major refurbishment and makeover, with a new standalone all day bar and café The General Store opening next door.
Last week, I popped ‘up north’ to check out it out and also sample their new summer cocktail menu. Taking over the site of the former gloomy Mini-Bar, the light and contemporary General Store could not be more different. The venue brings a slice of old town Americana to Highbury Corner, with vintage gas pumps, huge US fridges, cosy leather booths and retro tiling. The GS serves coffee, cake, cocktails and craft beer so enough to keep you watered from daytime to night.
Arriving on a warm summer evening, my friend and I were definitely in the mood for cocktails. The menu features some classic drinks with a twist, such as the General Store Mai Tai (Hibiscus-infused rum with lime juice, sugar and coconut water) served in a short glass, which my friend noted had quite the kick. I was in the mood for something lighter (and can’t resist elderflower) so went for the English Garden (Hendricks Gin and Elderflower Liqueur shaken with Apple and Lemon), which was very refreshing. With such tempting concotions on the menu, I threw caution to the wind and mixed my spirits, opting for a Apple Caipirinha (Cachaca Rum served with Sherry, Apple Juice, Syrup and served over Cubed Apple), which was the right amount of sweet and strong.
Accompanying our cocktails, my pal and I decided to share a slice of cake. I gave him free rein to surprise me with his choice. When he came back with a gluten-free piece, I was initially sceptical as previous experiments with GF haven’t worked out well for me in the past. However, I’ve got to praise the GS for baking a thoroughly delicious GF chocolate and raspberry cake, it was delicious.
Overall, it’s a great spot to catch up with friends over coffee or a cocktail. Located next door to The Garage, it’s a perfect location for pre or post gig drinks, with the venue open until 3am on weekends if you’re up for a big night. Having met friends often over the years in the area, it’s good to see a decent drinking venue on Highbury Corner at last.
- The General Store, 20 – 22 Highbury Crescent, Highbury East, N5 1RD. Nearest station: Highbury & Islington. Open Mon-Wed 10am-11.30pm, Thur 10am-1am, Fri-Sat 10am-3am, Sun 12pm-11pm. For more information, visit The General Store Facebook page.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
Alfresco drinking is one of the best things about London in the summer (in my opinion!). When the weather is good, there’s nothing better than relaxing with a cocktail in the fresh (fresh-ish – we are in London after all!) air. This summer, the urban scenic surrounds of the Grand Union Canal is playing host to a new drinking destination.
Setting up camp on Paddington’s Floating Pocket Park is a new pop-up venue from the team behind Lockhouse. The Botanical Bar will serve a range of gins and gin cocktails, with workshops and tastings on offer for dedicated gin lovers. Some of the signature concoctions on offer include ‘We’ve Got The Whole World Gin Our Hands’ (Beefeater 24, fresh lavender and lemon balm), ‘Dr Greenthumb’, ‘Monkey Business’ and ‘Island In The Sun’. Among the many gin brands will be Beefeater London Dry Gin & Beefeater 24, Plymouth and Monkey 47, while the mixers come from the London Essence Company. Non gin drinkers are also catered for with mocktails, Perrier Jouet Champagne, soft drinks and Cornish ice cream.
Gin-tastic events @ the Botanical Bar
- Gin Tasting (Thursday 20 July and Thursday 10 August)
Find out your perfect G&T as you’re guided through ‘beautifully balanced botanicals, tantalising tonics and gorgeous fresh garnishes’ so you can make one at home. Learn tasting techniques so you can detect the best quality gin. Tickets: £25pp.
- Cocktail Masterclass (Thursday 3 August)
Learn how to mix up classic cocktails or Botanical Bar originals with talented mixologists. Event includes a welcome drink, before you take part in a fun, interactive masterclass. After you’ve learned your skills, there will be a farewell shot to finish. You can also enjoy 15% discount of a meal at Lockhouse. Masterclass lasts 90 minutes and costs £25pp (inc 5 drinks).
- Botanical Bar @ Floating Pocket Park, Paddington Basin, W2 1JS. Nearest station: Paddington or Edgware Road. Open Thursday and Friday until 18 August 2017 from 12pm-9pm. For more information, visit the Merchant Square website or Lockhouse website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in August, click here.
It’s that time of year again as the UK’s biggest cocktail celebration returns to the capital this month. The spring edition of Cocktails In The City brings some of the best drinking hotspots to you. Setting up camp at the stunning surrounds of One Marylebone, Londoners can go on a bar crawl under one roof.
Twenty-five of the world’s top bars will be hosting pop-ups from 30 March – 1 April in the Georgian venue’s Grand Hall. Among those representing will be The Artesian (four-time winner of World’s Best Bar), concealed hotspots London Cocktail Club and Reverend JW Simpson, speakeasies Barts and The Lucky Pig and hotel classics Trader Vic’s and The Blue Bar, serving their signature drinks and experimental new creations.
Meanwhile, jetting in from Europe will be Berlin’s Schwein Bar, Stockholm’s Linje Tio, Oslo’s Himkok and Copenhagen’s Ruby. The Nordic bars will be teaming up with Woodford Reserve to create the ‘Hygge’ drinking experience with their pop-up bars nestled together on the cosy 2nd floor.
Cocktail fans will also have the chance to blend their own bespoke gin with London micro-distillery Sacred in the enchanted garden, mix their own concotions with some of the capital’s finest mixologists and learn how to create the ultimate Rum Punch with The Duppy Share.
Other bars taking part include 100 Hoxton, 214 Bermondsey, Burlock, Cahoots, Disrepute, Gaucho, Hush, The Four Sisters Townhouse and Three Six Six.
- Cocktails In The City takes place from 30 March – 1 April 2017 at One Marylebone, 1 Marylebone Road, Marylebone, NW1 4AQ. Nearest station: Great Portland Street or Regents Park. Ticket: £15 includes 1 cocktail. For more information and booking, visit the Cocktails In The City website.
For a guide to what else is on in April, click here.
Following on from their success of The Flavour Rooms at the Sanderson Hotel and Bluewater last year, flavour pioneers Smith & Sinclair are back with a new sensory, taste experience for adventurous Londoners. Launching in Soho this March will be an exciting new pop-up cocktail bar with a twist.
Smith & Sinclair are teaming up with Tanqueray London Dry Gin to launch the Tanqueray Experimental Garnish Bar. The menu will feature a bespoke collection of four Tanqueray cocktails which drinkers are invited to get creative with and experiment with their own edible garnishes, such as edible perfumes, gin oils and spherification balls that pop in the mouth. Guests are encouraged to reserve a spot at the bar in advance at £12pp, which includes a Smith & Sinclair edible cocktail, a Tanqueray cocktail and a range of garnishes.
For those in a really creative mood, you can head to the edible perfume workshop to make your own scents to smell… and taste. You’ll be taken on a journey through the history of fragrance along with tastings, before the opportunity to create your own bottle. Sessions start from £35pp and can be booked in advance.
Meanwhile, in addition to the bar and perfume workshops, Smith & Sinclair’s range of boozy sweet treats, including its signature cocktail pastilles, alcoholic bubbles, cocktail-infused vapours, alcoholic dib dabs and more will be available to buy.
- The Flavour Room, Carnaby will be open from 3 March – 2 April 2017 at 8 Ganton Street, Soho, W1F 7QP. Nearest station: Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus. Opening times: Shop – Mon-Sun 10am-7pm. Bar (over 18s only): Wed-Sat 10am-12am. For more information, visit the Flavour Room website. For tickets for the Smith & Sinclair and Tanqueray Experimental Garnish Bar, visit this DesignMyNight link, or for tickets to the Smith & Sinclair Edible Perfume Experience, visit this link.
For a guide to what else is on in London in March, click here.
Anyone who follows my Instagram account will know I’m quite the cocktail connoisseur. Despite having my favourites (yes Mojito, I’m talking about you!), I usually opt to try as many new concoctions as possible to widen my booze palate so to speak. However, my extensive experience of downing alcoholic creations meant I wasn’t so good at recognising some at a recent special event.
For Valentine’s Day last week, I was treated to a visit to Pitch Black – a new blind tasting experience. Pitch Black was a pop-up in Shoreditch in late 2016 before moving to its current base, the Sixties-themed No Such Place events space in Covent Garden. I wasn’t given any information about the evening beforehand, so had no idea what to expect. After arriving at the basement venue – which had a very Mad Men vibe – we were treated to a welcome glass of Prosecco to ease into the evening. At this point the lights were on, so be rest assured, the night doesn’t start with you suddenly being plunged into darkness.
Following the bubbles, we went into a cosy room for the main part of the evening – the blind cocktail and wine tasting. Our host for the evening was Dom, an experienced and enthusiastic bar veteran with plenty of knowledge and banter. Although admittedly apprehensive when I found out it was in the dark, Dom soon set our minds at ease so it wasn’t long before I was intrigued and ready for the challenge. When the lights went off, we handily have glow-in-the-dark coasters in front of us so we can easily find our drinks. We started on the first cocktail served in a lowball, smelling it first before sampling the liquid inside. As a group we were invited to discuss what smells and tastes we were experiencing, which soon showcased just how different our senses were given the wide variety of answers.
Before moving on to wine after the sweetness of the cocktails, we were given an amuse bouche each to cleanse the palate, ready for the stark difference in texture and flavour of the wines. The first wine was a white one which I was convinced was a Chilean Chenin Blanc (I was wrong). After the tasting, the lights were turned on (gently!) and we were given the results of the tasting tests. Turns out, many of us were pretty incorrect on the main ingredients of the cocktails, as well as the identity and origin of the white, but a couple of people correctly guessed the red.
Overall, it was a fun and interesting experience. Living in London, we’re such a rush, we don’t often take the time to fully savour the smells and flavour of the food and drink we’re consuming. By restricting our vision, we were able to focus on the taste and it really brought a new dimension to drinking. If you’re looking for a night out with a difference, it’s well worth checking out.
- Pitch Black @ No Such Place, 68A Neal Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9PA. Nearest station: Covent Garden. Advance bookings only for 90 minute experience. Tickets include bubbles on arrival, two cocktails, an amuse bouche and two wines. For more information, visit the Pitch Black website.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
Fancy a bit of Alpine action, but can’t get to the slopes? Well, the Vauxhall Winter Village is bringing some winter fun to the capital. Following their November-December opening before the Christmas and New Year break, the Village is reopening for business from 19 January 2017.
The Vauxhall Winter Village is presented by the team behind Vauxhall Street Food Garden and offers weekday lunchtime and evening venue for eating, drinking and socialising. Located just moments from Vauxhall station, the pop-up alpine ski village features plenty to keep you entertained, including a Retro Ski Wear with Cable Car Photo Booth, bookable alpine cabin booths and Winter Sports Bar screening the latest sports.
For those feeling peckish, there is a host of street food stalls, including Valcie Flavours jerk shack, City Burger, Win & Lilly’s Oriental Foods, Country Kitchen and Souper Soups and special weekly foodie pop-ups on Fridays. Meanwhile, drinkers can head to the Smirnoff pop-up bar, serving Hot Pimm’s Winter Cider, Festive Glühwein or Mulled Cider, together with spiced drinks; beer, wine, spirits and champagne. There is also the Red Bull Winter Lodge serving Red Bull cocktails while showing Red Bull TV. With the temperatures biting outside, the Winter Village is fully undercover with heating and lighting to give a cosy and relaxed atmosphere with plenty of dining areas to sit.
- Vauxhall Winter Village is open from 19 January 2017 on Monday to Fridays only from 11.30am-10pm. Free entry. Vauxhall Winter Village, South Lambeth Place, Vauxhall, SW8 1SP. Nearest station: Vauxhall. For more information, visit the Vauxhall Winter Village website or the Facebook page.
To find out what else is on in London in February, click here.
Many of you have probably heard of Bompas & Parr, the food and drink wizards who have created a series of sensory, taste experiences. I visited their Alcoholic Architecture – a room full of inhalable alcohol in Borough Market earlier this year and was looking forward to visiting subsequent projects. When I heard about their special Christmas experience – Beyond The Waterfall – I knew it was right up my street. It combines an immersive theatrical experience and cocktails so I was eager to take part.
This week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to their special preview night. Beyond The Waterfall is located in the plush The Village area of Westfield London – surrounded by designer shops. The fact they have managed to turn what I presume was a standard retail unit into a magical land is pretty impressive. Standing outside the front door, we were treated to a glimpse of what to expect as we peered through the windows to see the gloomy and misty lagoon. Upon entering, we were greeted by who I would describe as glamorous nautical advisers, giving us warnings of what to expect and tokens to exchange later for fantastical concoctions.
The first part of the journey was across a 20 metre lagoon – yes, they have actually created a huge water feature in a shopping centre. We boarded small, individual boats and made our way up the lagoon – with varying degrees of success in terms of speed and direction, depending on your paddling skills! Fortunately, there are strategically placed seafarers along the way to guide or push you in the right direction – which is ultimately ‘beyond the waterfall’. Don’t worry, you won’t get wet (unless you want to!), as waterproof ponchos and a large umbrella for the actual waterfall part are provided.
A quick pit stop with a wise man gives you an insight into the faraway world you have travelled to and the chance to show off your drinking skills as you down your first cocktail – an interesting brown liquid in a bottle. Finally, we ended up in the hidden cavern – a mythical cocktail bar staffed by mermen and the very fabulous host Ruby. After being greeted with some welcome punch, we settled down to peruse the menu and mingle with the mermen, who entertained us with their various talents. The cocktail menu has been inspired by the sea and features unusual ingredients such as undersea botanicals, real gunpowder and rare ambergris. I ended up enjoying a Shipwreck Sour (Shipwreck cider brandy, Coral Calvados, Creme de Peche, lemon juice, shipwreck bitters and egg white), which was frothy and sweet.
Overall, we had a really fun experience. My friend and I embraced the spirit of the event and enjoyed the various flavours of alcohol we tried. The staff and entertainers we encountered along the way certainly brought a sense of adventure and theatrics so we felt a world away from the bustling shops of Westfield outside. The event has been so popular, further dates are likely to get added, so I really recommend keeping an eye out for more tickets.
- Beyond The Waterfall runs from 9 – 23 December 2016. At The Village, Westfield London, Ariel Way, White City, W12 7GF. Nearest station: Shepherd’s Bush, White City or Shepherd’s Bush Market. Open 4-10pm. Tickets are time-slotted and last 60 minutes. Tickets: £15 (includes 2 drink tokens). For tickets, visit Westfield London website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in December, click here.