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Cheap thrills: @AlexiDuggins goes to a bring-your-own cocktail bar

Posted at 3:15 pm, March 30, 2013 in Food & Drink, Fun London, Music & Nightlife

Editor-at-large Alexi Duggins is at your mercy. This week he went to a bring-your-own cocktail bar…

In theory, BYOC is a great idea. Being a bring-your-own joint, it should be as cheap as drinking in a Brick Lane curry house. And there are two more benefits. First, you don’t have to eat noxious, grit-filled slurry. Second, you get avant-garde booze boffins here. Men spritzing essences into drinks at E1’s balti hovels? Not likely. Well, not while the manager’s looking at least.

In practice, though, this ain’t cheap. It’ll cost you £20 per person for the privilege of a bartender mixing your booze with syrups, mixers and those little onions that look like shrunken eyeballs. And that’s before you’ve shelled out on booze. Oh, and you only get a two-hour time slot. You could say this is a bit steep for a BYO venue. But only if you want to start making statements as obvious as ‘The Shard. Bit pointy, innit?’

So there’s only one thing to do: save cash by taking Tesco Value vodka. Although, oddly, I seem to be the only person adopting this approach. For as I and two friends step into this tiny, near-dark basement – accessed from behind the counter of a juice bar in Covent Garden – it soon becomes obvious that most punters aren’t opting for cheapness. One table’s so dense with spirits bottles that it’s like a booze rainforest A shameforest.

This proves the right approach, though. Because it turns out this bar’s resident shaker-maker doesn’t seem to have been trained in Tesco Value cocktails. First, he attempts a funky orange mojito. He winds up creating a teeth-corroding, synthetic alcoholic Capri-Sun. The follow-up – a cucumber and onion martini – is better: all delicate and interesting. Although the fact that it’s begging to be turned into a flavour of crisps may mean it’s not to everyone’s taste. Our final beverage, though, is a disaster: an angry, pink grapefruit confection of nastiness. Partly it tastes of citrus. Mostly of despair.

The final cost: two hours of drinking for £23.28 each. That’s £7.76 a drink. If we’d used branded spirits and brought two bottles between the three of us, we’d have spent £9.50 per beverage. Which makes it only 50p cheaper per drink than Loungelover, one of the capital’s best cocktail bars – somewhere that does far better drinks than this, and with way more choice. BYOC, frankly, is a gimmick.

Particularly given that grapefruit monstrosity. There’s no excuse really: every cocktail bar should know it’s the ingredients that are meant to be muddled. Not the bar staff.

For info, see our BYOC listing, read more of Alexi Duggins‘s adventures.

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