Saturday, 5 February 2011
There's a certain glamour attached to the Prohibition era - the Charleston, gangsters, illegal speakeasies. In credit-crunched Britain, one could argue the time is rife for our own bit of '30s-style indulgence, and this is a challenge which Nightjar has taken up with aplomb.
The Nightjar is a speakeasy-style cocktail bar that, from its drinks menu and interior to the music, attempts to recreate the mood of that era. The speakeasy feel starts with the entrance, which is located just north of the labyrinth that is Old Street Tube station. Tucked away amongst the caff’s (café’s would be misleading) is a non-descript door on the edge of the roundabout. The only clue that it is a cocktail bar on the night I arrived came from a couple of shady looking bouncers loitering outside. At least I think they were bouncers.
Once you find the entrance, a small flight of stairs takes you into a venue that’s straight out of downtown Manhattan. The drinking den consists of dark wood furniture and black leather chairs and booths, and is framed by a copper-panelled ceiling and large mirrored murals. Subdued lighting, dapper bartenders, and a gorgeous waiting staff continue the illusion of serious glamour.
But the Nightjar is more than just illusion with a cracking resident band, Benoit Villefon and his Orchestra, which offered up a mix of Chanson Francoise, Russian folk, Latin dance, and swing. These cats (as they like to be called) were all seriously charismatic and musically very funky. The audience was a mix of hipsters and creative types who clearly enjoyed the retro aspect of the night. In fact, one group of young women went whole hog and donned flapper dresses for the evening, which despite how it might sound, came across as stylish as opposed to hen party.
The cocktails are simply heavenly. They are classified into Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition and Post War-era drinks, from which one can only assume that they didn’t invent cocktails during the war. Or that they weren’t any good. The Northerner and I were joined by the Editor for the evening, and we indulged across the eras. Pre-Prohibition Morning Glory Fizz (Scotch, lemon, lime, absinthe, sugar syrup and champagne) and Prohibition Between the Sheets (cognac, rum, triple sec, lemon and gomme syrup) were particular favourites of mine. Big drinks but perfectly balanced. The gals opted for Post War The Wibble (gin, sloe gin, muroise, gomme syrup, grapefruit and lemon) and Airmail (rum, honey water, lime and champagne) which they declared delicious. We also sampled one of their signature drinks – the 24 Volt Cobbler (cranberries, maple syrup, lime, bitters, mixed berries liqueur and red wine) which was unusual but very tasty; and the English Mule (gin, lime, vermouth, ginger liqueur, and gomme syrup) which was rich and delicious. Other drinks on offer include a full selection of reasonably priced Old and New World wines and two of my favourite bottled beers – Greenwich Meantime London Lager and Blue Moon Wheat Beer.
Nightjar is the brainchild of Roisin and Edmund, who from a bar perspective, have a great sense of style and celebration. Of courses when you’re visiting anywhere as a reviewer you are subject to a little bit of extra attention, but I think its fair to say that these two are charming regardless of who you are. While their retrospective nod to a bygone era works so well you half expect them to roll out barrels of moonshine. But perhaps that’s one for next time. Or the time after that...