In New York there are countless bars hidden in Manhattan's nooks and basements, and most of them are a tribute to the good old days of Prohibition. In London, the trend is less marked, but there are still some neo-speakeasies, such as Milk & Honey or Experimental Cocktail Club, opened by a bunch of French guys who already own four bars in Paris and one in New York.
But the place where all London's nightlife is abuzz is actually Nightjar. You can find it a short walk from Old Street Station, tucked between two cafés. A discreet plaque signals an anonymous staircase leading underground to this new cocktail mecca. The retro décor is neat, elegant and jazzy, but the number of seats is limited. Seats are, however, available for booking early in the evening. Inside the bar everything invites to meditation and the refined cocktails, prepared by the skillful bartenders in suspenders, are good company for the mood.
Nightjar Cocktail - Flickr/Delaina Haslam
The cocktails menu
Organized in chronological order, the cocktails menu is limited, but damn inviting. The pre-Prohibition (1600-1918) menu contains traditional recipes, but also early classics. If you take a look at the bar's website, you will notice that clients are warned to "expect an eclectic mix of fruity flavors, creamy textures and some stronger, drier drinks". Originating in "desperate times", the drinks included in the Prohibition menu (1918-1932) are mostly short, strong and flavored. The last to menus (Post-War and Nightjar Signatures) are also full of nice surprises, but if you have an idea that you want to try out, the bartenders are happy to make your dream come true and prepare a special drink in full compliance with your instructions.
Mixing Herradura Reposado tequila, hibiscus infusion, yuzu liqueur, maraschino, fresh tangerine juice, agaves syrup and grapefruit bitters, the Crusta Nightjar is very refreshing. More complex but very well balanced, the Chicha Morada combines Belvedere vodka, quinoa infusion, juiced dates, honey syrup, Harvey's Fino sherry and Peruvian corn soda. Served in a hollowed out butternut squash, with a piece of corn, baby corn toast and mint, this drink illustrates perfectly these exotic places' philosophy: the packing is as important as the drink itself!
This is even truer when talking about the classic Old Fashioned. Exemplarily prepared with excellent 15 years old Pappy Van Winkle's bourbon, it is not served on ice, but on an iced metal egg (to avoid dissolution) and decorated with a piece of sugar cane, lemon zest, cherry and especially a tobacco smoked meringue, which reinforces the notes of the high quality whiskey used as basis for the mixture! The Martinez is reinterpreted with a bitter, but too powerful chocolate. However, it is nicely served in a cocoa pod and the latter is heated to exhale its fragrance.
Live Music at Nightjar - Flickr/Mecaniques
Music and events
Besides being the number one spot for sipping a delicious cocktail in London, Nightjar is also a place to visit if you are a vintage and jazz music fan. On Tuesday, the live music concert is free of charge, but you will have to pay £5 if you are there on Wednesday or Thursday (8.45-11pm). For Fridays and Saturdays (8.45-11.30pm) the price goes up to £7.