Friday 28th September - After seeing the state of the Team List Leaderboard, my siblings (and significant plus ones) decided it was time to get some more points. Nightjar has been on The List for a long time, and Em has just moved up to Hoxton so I booked us in for some pre-dinner drinks at 18.30. Early evening slots are quite easy to come by, but if you want to have a table later on (when the live jazz gets going) you need to book way in advance - I'm talking a month or two here.
Nightjar is tucked away inbetween various unsavoury looking kebab shops and cafés just off the Old Street roundabout. You may have unknowingly walked past it during the day, but it is pretty obvious at night due to the queue and sore thumb doorman (Opium and Ballroom du Beef are also guilty of this hidden bar crime). You instantly forget what neighbourhood you are in once you make it downstairs. We were shown to a cosy table opposite the piano, which would have been ideal if it had been a little later on. The background jazz was already much better than most bars manage. We were brought the now customary jug of bizarre flavoured water (cucumber, apple, Miles Davis' sweat etc etc) with some free popcorn to keep us happy whilst we tried to make the tough first cocktail decision.
|Waldorf Gloom Lifters and Cold Buttered Rum|
The menu is split into Pre-Prohibition (1600-1918 - what happened in 1600?), Prohibition (1918-1932), Post War (1940-2000) and Nightjar Signatures. There is also a Unique to Nightjar section which includes vintage liqueurs and spirits, an absinthe collection and all sorts of special gifts including the superb Nightjar pack of cards (see below) which I caved and bought. Head bartender Marian Beke has travelled all over the world to source unheard of ingredients and garnishes, hence the need for a glossary at the back. You can read an interesting interview with him here.
We were strongly advised to go for a crazy sharing cocktail with dry ice, but we steered clear since all the drinks are beautifully presented anyway. We started with two Waldorf Gloom Lifters (served in Hip Flasks on ice), a Cold Buttered Rum (with a hot coconut butter float slowly infusing into the drink, and a dehydrated lime) and a Coffee & Cacao Soda (for a drugged up member of our party). Al and I struggled to balance our hip flasks, which did actually fall and spill a couple of times before we just put them on the table. It was a very boozy drink, which never seemed to run out.
|Shrubbler, Nougat Cocktail and Rodriguez Sour|
Our next round (pictured above) included a Shrubbler, a Nougat Cocktail and a Rodrgiuez Sour. Al's Shrubbler came with an edible fruit basket (think creme brulee topping) containing his five a day. Jo's Nougat Cocktail came with lightly singed white chocolate, and a liquid chocolate pot on top. We had a taster of the very drinkable Ysabel Regina brandy that was used to make it. My Rodriguez Sour had a paprika coated rim and a mysterious chocolate coated fruit dangling over the top of it. As you can see from some of the cards below (which are slightly out of date), they really don't hold back on the presentation. The drinks aren't just for show though, and they tasted as good as they looked. Nightjar is quite comfortable one of London's best cocktail bars, and I think I would have to dedicate a whole evening (and a fair amount of cash) to it next time. Book now!
Em only arrived as we were finishing our last drink, allowing Jo to gain a point on her in the sibling rivalry race. We decided to pop in to the always wonderful Yum Bun (read more here) for some much needed sustenance before moving on to our second cocktail bar of the evening.
It was the public opening night of White Lyan, a quirky new cocktail bar from master mixologist, Ryan Chetiyawardana, who has been involved with the much loved Whistling Shop in Shoreditch and Bramble in Edinburgh amongst other places. The plan here is to speed up drinks preparation by pre-bottling many cocktails, giving the bartenders more free time to chat to customers. No perishable ingredients are used behind the bar. The most notable absence is fresh citrus - other souring agents are used instead. There is also no ice involved to avoid unwanted dilution, with spirits and drinks instead being chilled to exact temperatures. The bar therefore looks very different, with hardly anything on show except for a big fridge. Drinks are made with Mr.Lyan (Ryan's brand) spirits, and only house drinks are available.
They were lacking some electricity when we arrived, but candles were out on tables and the fridges seemed to still be working so we sat down in a quiet corner. The menu is full of weird libations including Bone Dry Martini (flavoured with chicken bone tincture), Lyan Club Cocktail (gin, turmeric and red apple shrub, soda), and Lada Lada (tequila, smoke, elderflower and lager syrup). Sadly though, the flavours didn't match the ideas at all. We were really disappointed with 4 out of 5 of our drinks. I don't think it helped that we had just been to Nightjar. The Beeswax Old Fashioned was the only cocktail that got the thumbs up. Lada Lada and Yiddish Bubbles were far too sweet (bring a lemon) whilst the Lyan Club Cocktail tasted mostly of vinegar, with no obvious signs of turmeric and red apple shrub. Al was unimpressed by his red wine, and it did not improve when they added a spice distillate the second time around to give it extra depth. The only beer option is the canned (and highly overrated) Hobo Craft Lager, which you can alter with hop atomisation to turn it into a pale ale. I know they are going for simplicity, but would it hurt to have a local beer or two in the fridge?
There is a club downstairs which wasn't up and running when we went. The décor is minimal - I would imagine that the idea is to let the drinks do the talking, which worries me. I find it hard to believe that they have tasted our drinks and feel that they are worth up to £9. With any luck, all of the other drinks are great, and the others will be improved. At any rate, I'm not rushing to go back to find out.
We lost Jo and Ant (still feeling under the weather, despite sensibly moving on to whisky drinks) allowing Em and Al to extend their Team List lead. We crossed over to Hackney Road, aiming to go to Sager & Wilde to get Al a nice glass of wine after the last two. Before we made it there, I diverted them in to The Liquor Cabinet, a tiny bar underneath the Golden Grill kebab shop run by the experienced duo of Mikey Seddon and Thom Docker, both formerly of The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town.
Before The Liquor Cabinet turned up, the space was used by Quiquiriqui Mezcaleria, which I annoyingly didn't make it to. List regular Sam reported back that it was a lot of fun, and that it stayed open so late that they had to be let out through the kebab shop. Quiquiriqui have now moved in to Catrina the Cocktail Ambulance, which also sounds pretty wonderful - read more here.
The Liquor Cabinet has only recently managed to sort out a license issue, so it had only been open for a couple of days when we went in. The idea here is to have one excellent variety of their favourite spirits and a few mixers alongside a couple of solid wines and beers, whilst keeping prices low. The atmosphere was buzzing, and the simplicity really works here (unlike in White Lyan!). Al and Em were very happy with their red wine, and I had a very nice £4.50 G&T made with Three Corners Gin (which uses only two botanicals - Juniper and Lemon). If I was a local, I think I would be here all the time. It is open Tue-Sat and the bar is cash only.
As it was approaching 11pm, we decided to hop on over to Sager & Wilde for a final drink, only to find that they had just called last orders. Sager & Wilde is an attractive new wine bar on Hackney Road, set up by Michael and Charlotte Sager-Wilde, following on from their successful pop-up in Shoreditch last year. They are however on their best behaviour with their new neighbours so they currently aren't staying open very late. They hope to extend their opening hours next year.
|Sager and Wilde|
They kindly pointed us in the direction of Mr.Buckley's which is a bit further down the road, and helpfully stays open til 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. I have passed it a few times on the way to Broadway Market and it always looked fun. Upstairs, you can have food and drink - they open up at 10am Mon-Fri and 9am Sat-Sun for brunch. We headed down to the late night bar underneath, which was surprisingly empty for such a nice place. It's the perfect chilled out place to grab a late night drink, and the barmen know their stuff. One of them was keeping himself entertained by practicing his flair skills.
I was impressed by their bottled beers, and got myself a local Pressure Drop Pale Fire, whilst Al and Em went for wine (best of the night) and an alcohol-enhanced hot chocolate respectively. London needs more relaxed late night bars like this which don't try and turn themselves in to clubs. I'm very jealous of the Hackney Road locals who have so many friendly watering holes on their doorsteps.
Just as we were leaving, I asked the bartenders about a Pressure Drop beer that I hadn't seen before, bizarrely named "Wu Gang Chops the Tree" after a character from Chinese folklore who is known for endlessly cutting down a Bay Laurel on the Moon. Neither of them had tried it before either, and so they just opened it up on the house, and poured it into three glasses. Don't ask, don't get! It calls itself a Forged Herb Hefeweisse - a pale and hazy wheat beer, with pronounced herbal notes, and hints of clove, citrus and banana. It was a bit late for me to notice all of that, but it went down very easily. Read more about Pressure Drop brews here.
I ended up crashing in Hoxton with Al and Em since I couldn't face a two night bus journey home, and I was conveniently heading out to Dalston the next day for Street Food Europe and more. I will leave that all for another post however. Em has now shot on to the Top 20 Leaderboard - she is currently tied for 16th on 11 points. Al is not far away in 21st place on 9 points, whilst Jo and Ant have moved to 30th on 6 points. All to play for.