London Cocktail Club, Covent Garden

4 years ago

The Vibe

You enjoying your drink, baby?‘, says the frankly bizarre waitress as she deposits four happy hour cocktails on your table. Drinks deals may not be the chicest start to a date but they do guarantee a degree of fun, whether drinking to toast your partner or obscure them. London Cocktail Club strikes just the right balance between cheesy and cool; it’s a dark basement bar, where familiar strains of speakeasy chic are juxtaposed with pirate touches and a lick of vintage. I’m talking velvet skull wallpaper and brightly painted tattoos on the walls, nostalgic menus printed on video tapes, big old bowls of rum cocktails and either a Tarantino or Disney soundtrack. This place has a sense of humour and, most importantly, will chill a date right out. The drinks come in twos – a little too much ice, a little too much fruit -and come thick and fast, promising to deliver some, metaphorical and literal, bang for your buck. On weekends it’s pretty popular, so book in advance. But on a Tuesday or Wednesday, go around 6pm and try and grab one of the corner tables in the back. Since the staff are so hands on and hyped, it keeps you at a safe distance and will also let you smooch to your heart’s content.

The Order

At £7.50 a pair you can drink your fill of the ‘Club 18-30’ list: Mojitos, Hurricanes, Bellinis and Brambles. Oh it’s classy. Their forte is rum so ask for the bartender’s finest Captain Morgan concoction or step up to the £100 dram in a silver cup with your name engraved. At 70ml a measure, this is excess at its tackiest. But if you do want to swank it up a touch there’s the ‘Continental’ list, for those who shun sugary drinks in favour of slick Sours. Like any playful bar worth its salt, there are punch bowls for 2 to share, and rum buckets for 7 if you’re feeling stupid. There’s also food to line the stomach, but mostly of the hot dog/cheese/chip variety so skip that and maybe wander elsewhere later. Just so you time this right, happy hour is 5pm-7pm Tuesday to Saturday and all night on Monday. Start the week badly, please.

The Game

As woman-loving Charles Bukowski said, ‘if nothing happens, you drink to make something happen‘. Apply this to your date. Meet, sit, order and wait patiently. There are two possible outcomes. You drink ever more quickly to assuage the boredom and soon find a happy place where you are purely intent on amusing yourself. They sense your sarcasm and respond in kind, leading into a evening of over-the-line teasing, a tacit agreement that you are badly matched and a very drunken kiss to confirm this fact. Or, a couple of drinks down you start enjoying yourself. They have livened up and you’re being forced to rethink your initial judgement. You quickly chalk down the lacklustre opening chat for nerves and start to pay more attention, marvelling at the newfound momentum to their stories and swooning at the racy glaze over their eyes. Happy hour comes and goes. You move onto the posh cocktail list and make a pact with yourself to imbibe till the moment you kiss. It happens. You fumble in the dark for hours and are spat back onto the street at an ungodly hour. You should not, must not go back to theirs, but the likelihood is that the homing device that usually returns you safely to bed has been deactivated by booze and you’re now going where they’re going.

The Faults

Very Central London.

Sex Factor

5. You’ll get more ass than a toilet seat.

The Luggage Room, Mayfair

4 years ago

“ He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The Luggage Room Stairs view

The Vibe

Oh Fitzgerald. With all this noise about the new film, I forgot what a Panty-Dropper your prose could be. If we can leave Baz Luhrmann’s world of high-octane action, big name stars and hip hop tracks for a moment, let’s reconsider the 1920s as a place where the rich, when not flapping around on Egg Island, were hanging around in polished hotels and cutting loose. Theses joints were as wet as the speakeasies, but a little more exclusive.*

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The Luggage Room is not the place to visit in costume after having watched the movie. It is a place to go if you are unaffected by the proliferating prohibition bars in East London and would rather play house in an Art Deco hotel bar in Mayfair, making an elegant nod to the era. Leather banquettes, stiff drinks, polished mahogany, marble floors, luggage studded trimmings, lots of champagne, cobblers and punches. So goddamn classy – with the concurrent price tag of course. And for a date? It offers intimacy, perfect acoustics for whispers and giggles, and a healthy dose of fancy escapism.

The Order

It’s only the best for the lady. Whether supping on the rich hug-in-an-expensive-glass Malbec, going for an ‘heritage’ cocktail or just taking a double shot of Mezcal straight up, you’ll adore the drinks. The Penicillin is fantastic for whiskey lovers – Johnnie Walker, lemon juice, honey, ginger and talisker. The Pisco Sour should be sampled as it’s so en vogue right now (been to Ceviche or Coya?) and an Old Fashioned ordered for style points. The best thing about these sorts of bars- and by ‘sorts’ I mean pricey, old school and residing in hotels- is that the cocktails are punchy, no scrimping on booze. Unless, like my companion, you want to lose all feeling in your legs and trip straight out of there, give up on spirits after two rounds and move on to wine. This is also a kind consideration to your bank balance (only marginally though). Miss out on the bar snacks – the refillable nuts and vegetable crisps are good enough, but the pork pie or anchovies are one to avoid on a date night.

The Game

The game is very much focused around said order. If you get that right, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be pinning them down on the leather couches by the end of the evening. There are darkish corners and the place does not heave with crowds, all the more reason to be inappropriate. One thing I will say is dress the hell up. What’s the point of living the high life if you look like a tramp. Guys, this calls for the slickest of your shirts, a new suit perhaps and some strong cologne. If you want to mack on all night, you had better make sure your face is smooth and your mouth tastes of butterscotch (How? I don’t know). Ladies, resist the call to flapper dress this up, themes spell death to a first date. But do embrace the desire to wear your heels high and your dresses short, with racy lipstick, lots of Coco Mademoiselle and a slinky little shirt draped over your shoulders to feign modesty. Chat, drink, touch, laugh, really stretch this out. And split the bill please, it’s a bitter burden for one person to shoulder. Very hard to leave but it’ll spit you out at 1am, so have that cab ordered.

The Faults

It ain’t cheap and you may be the coolest/youngest cat in there.

Sex Factor

5. You came, you stayed, you drank and spent way to much. I think the effort’s been put in darlin.

*Sooo Interesting: During prohibition, wild columnist Elsa Maxwell held a barn dance party in the Waldorf-Astoria featuring real livestock, fake trees and liquor from a life-size papier mâché cow, “which squirted champagne from one teet and Scotch from another”. Heaven.

Happiness Forgets, Hoxton

5 years ago

The Vibe

At last! An underground, dimly lit, immoderately priced, completely delicious cocktail bar that doesn’t pose as a Prohibition bar. Happiness Forgets has the illicit romance of the speakeasy with none of the pretension that has spread its atavistic tentacles across London. Behold the emperor in all his nakedness. Alcohol is legal. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s flappers who resolved to ‘eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’ had to bear the psychological scars of the First World War and the vice crusading of the temperance movement. We, meanwhile, may binge drink to our hearts’ content. Come and see for yourself on Hoxton Square, Monday-Saturday, 5.30-11pm. Happiness Forgets bills itself as high end cocktails in a low rent basement. That is its vibe: vibing.

The Order

Earl Grey Mar-TEA-ni (geddit?) tastes of tea, through the light froth of egg white and the thickest of colds. It’s served in a small saucer and is the place to start before moving your way through the cocktail menu, none of which disappointed. I’d love to pretend I can remember their ingredients (mixology? Is it a science?) but I’d do my considerable enjoyment of the place a disservice. Martinis contain olives – perhaps the most promising way to line your stomach as the only edible alternatives are well-executed, wholly sexless Thai bites (prawn toast, spring rolls, chicken satay). For the churlish, champagne flows at £7.50 a glass and beer is available by the bottle.

The Game

Take a Hackney hipster. Hoxton Square died decades ago so their heart will sink as you lead them towards that awful bar at the north-west end, its literal Underbelly. The relief upon arrival will overwhelm, as will the charm of the staff, if not you. They’ll be yours forever. Book in advance, asking to sit side by side on a bench or at the bar.

The Faults

Shame about the neighbours, though its address secures it as a diamond in the rough.

Sex Factor

5. Dating then mating.

 

Got a London date suggestion to share? Leave your comments below.

Experimental Cocktail Club, Chinatown

5 years ago

The Vibe

‘If you’re not on the list, you’re not getting in’ is a phrase that curdles the blood of any seasoned London drinker. Despite the many failed attempts to enter the halls of exclusive drinking dens, we continue to forget to call, email or tweet in advance to secure a spot. At the Experimental Cocktail Club, the finest, chicest and earliest of the swanky prohibition bar-style bars, you will have to either know the doorman or have contacted them in advance to secure your spot. Although walk-ins are permitted, it involves a certain amount of charm and finesse to talk your way in, something you may want to reserve for the date itself. The bar screams fin-de-siècle opulence, spread over three floors with exposed brickwork, intricate wallpaper, smouldering lighting and a piano bar (without the nuisance of a piano player). There are loveseats to lounge in, which are shaped to allow you to either chat intensely or pet away merrily. With an original ECC in Paris, many of the barmen here are French and the overall vibe is one of slow motion debauchery, with a reassuring pinch of attitude.

The Order

There’s nothing exactly experimental about the drinks on offer, they serve the classics plus a few wild cards but do them well and make them strong. The place demands a bit of theatre with your choices so for god’s sakes don’t go for a vodka soda lime or Pilsner, this could spell death on a date. Peacock away and order an Old Fashioned or, even better, louchely go with ‘whatever you recommend, I like my drinks short and punchy’. Prices tend to be around £15 for a cocktail so figure out how much of a long haul this is going to be and budget accordingly.

The Game

The place closes at 3am and feels more elicit the later you go so this is the final stage to the evening. Ideally, take your date to dinner in Soho beforehand, somewhere like Bocca di Lupo where you can eat late and then head to ECC for midnight. In the spirit of the twenties, assume traditional gender roles at the restaurant (men pay, women graciously accept) but once you hit the bar work it in rounds as this means you can be adventurous and pick for each other (‘surprise me’). It’s nice to move around in this joint so have the first round by the bar, the next on the loveseats and the final ones on a cosy sofa. You’d be a fool not to try anything whilst in the bar, as the final 30 minutes should be spent in lip-lock. Alternatively, if you have the pleasure of living nearby, wait till you are kicked out and take it back to theirs.

The Faults

Granted it’s expensive but no more so than a central London cocktail bar. The door-policy can be trying so, as mentioned, just lock down the organisational titbits before you arrive.

Sex Factor

5+. With the right person, you’ll never want to leave, but once you do, there’s somewhere you can go.

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