Last week we salivated over Thoroughly Modern Milly’s five secret London food spots, so it seems appropriate that this Friday evening our recommendations are all about where to find a delicious drink. Mr G and Ms S write London blog The Cocktail Lovers, and are a married couple working their way through the capital’s best cocktail bars in order to report their findings. They have chosen five secret London bars and explained exactly what it is that makes them special. Did someone say payday? Ashleigh Arnott
This is about as secret as you’re likely to get: a bar that sets up residence in a different spot every Friday and Saturday. One week it might be on the back of a lorry (yes really, it has happened), the next a disused railway arch in Shoreditch; the venue changes on a weekly basis but the décor, atmosphere and drinks menu remain the same.
Confused? Don’t be. The Fourth Wall is a mini-me, roving version of Bourne & Hollingsworth, a low key, tip-top cocktail bar in Fitzrovia. Think a chicer version of your grandma’s living room with expertly mixed drinks at your beck and call and you’ve got the right idea.
We love the fact that the fun starts days before the event itself – each Wednesday anyone who’s signed up for alerts receives an email with a clue to the chosen venue for that weekend. Most people guess straightaway, but if you don’t, simply call or email for details.
Anyone who’s ever visited the original venue will notice all the B&H trademarks including linen table cloths, cool cocktails and vintage glasses – even the chintzy wallpaper makes an appearance.
Obviously The Fourth Wall will appeal to those looking to add a cherry to the top of their regular visits but the illicit nature of it makes you feel like you’re in a cool secret whether you’ve been to the original venue or not. Join in the fun by registering your details on the website.
The Black Door, 24 York Way, N1 9AA (entrance in Caledonia Street).
Because it’s exactly that – a bog standard black door on an unassuming side street in King’s Cross. It sounds shady given the location but this particular door is at the side of a justifiably busy gastro pub, which is very much part of the new, upmarket face of a previously dodgy area.
Mind you, there is a slightly clandestine vibe about buzzing the door for entry. Once inside you have to climb up the narrow, rickety stairs, pass through the charming roof terrace (well worth remembering with summer coming up) before reaching the intimate room on the top floor. The mixture of comfy sofas and low tables gives it a cool retro vibe and the crowd takes in everyone from local office workers through to funky fashion students from Central Saint Martin’s down the road.
The wine list is fairly extensive while the cocktails veer to the classic side of things – think Manhattans and the like. At the weekend the good time mood goes up a notch with the addition of DJs playing a mix of Vintage Swing, Northern Soul and Old New York Funk.
You can’t help but do a double take when you arrive outside the address: surely there can’t be a bar inside such a staid looking apartment block in chi-chi Chelsea? Stay with it though; once inside the foyer look for the black door with the lantern outside, knock it and if the owners like what they see from the peep-through window, you’ll be granted access.
It’s worth mentioning that while the location is pretty surreal Bart’s is pretty damned serious in its drinks offering. As well as a rather good selection of Classic Cocktails (Old Fashioneds, Sours, Martinis – that kind of thing), there’s an extensive selection of House Cocktails ranging from the Saintly Cinnar (vodka, cognac, cinnamon and dark chocolate), to The Jazz Singer (vodka, lime, vanilla and passion fruit). We love the sharing drinks served Prohibition-stylee in dinky teapots; there’s also a few ‘Twosomes’ on the menu, including Putting Pants on Philip, a gin-based cocktail named after Laurel & Hardy’s first motion picture and dutifully served in a double bust of the duo.
There’s is a deliciously light and playful air about the place, reinforced with the Mickey Mouse wallpaper, a trunk filled with dressing-up costumes and all manner of eBay acquisitions dotted around the place. We’re also rather fond of the small but perfectly formed garden. If you’re a smoker, it makes a welcome change to having to keep popping out front for a crafty one, or you could go for the healthier option and try one of the tobacco-infused cocktails on the menu instead.
New Evaristo, 57 Greek Street, W1D 3DX
This one will never win prizes in a beauty contest but it sure comes up trumps in the hidden bars stakes. You’ll only know about it if you know about it if you know what we mean; there are absolutely no clues of its existence from the outside. Or from the inside of the building for that matter. In fact, before you actually stumble on the room itself, you wonder if you’re about to experience the seedier side of Soho. You have been warned.
Make your way down the shabby staircase and you’ll come across the New Avariso (aka ‘Trisha’s’). There is a ‘Club’ part tagged on to the end of the title but even when the bouncer is on the door we’ve never been asked to prove we’re members, so we assume that part of the name is only there for effect.
Inside it looks like a room that time forgot – all wipe-clean tablecloths, MDF clad walls and faded photographs of Italian stars. Chic it is not. But there’s something very charming about its refusal to smarten itself up. As for drinks, this is more of a beer, wine and spirits and mixers place rather than out-and-out cocktails. Still, at £3.50 or so for almost everything on offer, it’s impossible to mind. None of the eclectic crowd seem to give it a thought either; this place is much more about the atmosphere, Rat Pack soundtrack and the thrill of finding a true hidden gem.
This one isn’t at all hidden; in fact it’s the most visible of the lot. Where the secret part comes in is the talent behind the bar. Ladies and gentlemen, may we introduce you to Mr Dick Bradsell, one of the most important bartenders in British history. Without him shaking up the London cocktail scene in the 1980s it would have taken us much, much longer to gain our status as one of the top cocktail capitals in the world. Without him we wouldn’t have such iconic drinks as The Treacle, Russian Spring Punch or the fabulous Vodka Espresso (also known as the Espresso Martini).
Not that you’d have any inkling of this once you make your way into the tequila bar he now presides over. The room itself is small, dark, very Mexican in look and feel and the teensiest bit sultry. While the mood upfront is very much a good times bar with a late license to boot (until 3am for members; 11pm non-members), Dick doesn’t give anything away about his credentials from behind it. Until he mixes a drink. Who needs words when a careful dash of this and a deft splash of that can do the talking for you?
While the cocktail list focuses of tequilas and mezcals, if you fancy something off menu, he’ll sort you out without batting an eyelid. Give it a try, The Baja Room is highly recommended for the drinks, atmosphere and for the kudos of having your cocktail made by the original mixing maestro.