"It really did feel like one of those numerous little gems of a bar on the New York fringe – maybe just outside Greenwich Village."Review Rating: Reviewed by KimT
This place is so new it doesn’t have a real name yet and there’s no web site. But Alastair and Andy, the two young owners, don’t seem to care. I’d met my pal at Jamie’s Bar on the covered walkway on Bishopsgate just along from Liverpool Street station and we chatted as we took the back roads towards Hoxton. Our iphone at the ready in case we needed GPS assistance.
But everyone knows where everything is around here so we ambled along asking directions to Hoxton Square every now and again. We past former favourites – The Great Eastern Dining Room and Cantaloupe- without a second glance and made our way to 8-9 Hoxton Square. We crossed over, past the crowds happily drinking outside the Hoxton Square Grill & Bar in sub-zero temperatures and moved to the quieter end of the square.
Here we found, next to Yelo oriental food on the ground floor, a blackboard on which “The Basement” was scribbled. Down the narrow, precarious steps we went, guided by some rope lights into the bar below. Basements always have that musty smell that remind you of your youth. This one was dark too. The walls – which you could just about see through the gentle flickering of strategically placed candles - were a sort of blood red. It was warm. Whilst the assortment of low chairs and benches around equally low tables were inviting we pulled up a stool at the bar and settled in.
Alastair, the young bar man in a flat cap, greeted us warmly and expertly poured us each a glass of water while we studied the “Mixed drinks and mischief” menu. Hints of lemon and cucumber in that water. Now I’ve spent a fair amount of time surveying cocktail menus but this one was a little different. There was no mojito there for a start (although the Eastside Fizz was a mojito but with gin or vodka rather than rum) but Andy turned his hand to a mojito without a second glance – and without questioning my motives. My friend was a little bolder and requested a Honey and Cinnamon Daiquiri which was prepared in a perfect little bowl glass.
The conversation with Alastair was easy – he talked about his many years in the bar trade and his adventures working in some of the best bars and clubs both in New York and London. Many of his cocktails are inspired by bars and people in other places and each one has a story. He also takes great delight in sharing his passion for unusual cocktail ingredients from far flung places that no one else will have. La Vielle Prune plum brandy was one such example and I sampled a Perfect Storm which also contained dark rum, fresh lemon and ginger juice and honey. Warming with a kick.
My pal sampled a Polish Fizz – Zubrowka vodka, lemon, honey and orange bitters shaken with egg white and topped with soda. This certainly woke us up – a little like being assaulted by an energetic sherbert fizz. I was interested to hear about a Clear Creek import – a pine tree eau de vie – I think a pine scented cocktail would be perfect in the run up to Christmas.
Anyway, while we were there a couple arrived and parked themselves in one of the low, squishy sofas. Then a couple of girls arrived who also pulled up to the bar. Then some more girls joined the others at the bar and they seemed to be working their way through the wine list which was short but all encompassing. Most of the cocktails were £6.50 and a glass of wine started at £4 and we wondered how this lovely place was going to earn it’s keep. Let’s hope it does as it promises to be a treasure.
It’s a small bar and one where I have no doubt that everyone will get to know your name if you pass by more than once. My friend was keen to explore organising for a group of her friends to start an evening there in a couple of weeks’ time. The staff are enthusiastic, accommodating and chatty.
This isn’t and will never be mainstream – it’s too small for that. And if you are looking for smart and upmarket you’ll need to go elsewhere. But it sure is new, and achingly on-trend, more grunge student and young mover and shaker than office worker. And whilst it isn’t serving food just yet the music was sublime - an eclectic mix of classic jazz, vintage soul and new school jazz and a few other angles. Yep, that was Quantum Soul playing just now. It really did feel like one of those numerous little gems of a bar on the New York fringe –maybe just outside Greenwich Village.
KimT reviewed Happiness Forgets on Mon 20 Dec 2010