What city is home to the world's most daringly innovative cocktail scene? New York? That's the stock answer, but even NYers will tell you they're over-speakeasied at this point. LA? If you're in Swingers, sure. Paris? It's just taking off -- let's talk again in 2020.
London. The answer is London. Over the last few years, a burgeoning groundswell has burst into a perfectly blended mix of wild and fearless innovation, true craft, audacious presentation, and, well... bowler hats.
Even NY 'tail vanguard Audrey Saunders has said, “If I hadn’t started Pegu Club, I’d probably be in London," and the city dominated the last Tales of the Cocktail awards, scoring World's Best Bar, Cocktail Bar, Hotel Bar, Bartender, Drinks Selection, and Menu. Here's exactly what's going down in the city whose weather thankfully always necessitates a strong drink.
The Worship Street Whistling Shop
This place has a lab inside the bar, where the drinking public can watch 'tenders bravely experimenting on themselves with things like a "high pressure hydrosol" martini infused with concentrated botanical essence, or their radiation-aged absinthe cocktail, plus a Champagne Gin Fizz that's corked flat, then fermented in the bottle.
The guys behind this joint have introduced an element of theatricality to their service -- one drink (the Cerez Joker) comes with a balloon, which the Zippo-aided waitress will loudly "detonate" into a lemon-flavored mist. Another has a smoke-scented fake mustache for you to wear while imbibing, and their ingredient list ranges from things like Tab Clear syrup, to porter ice cream, to the blue cheese foam employed in their Corpse Reviver.
Reason & Mankind
A former Purl barman went on to open his own spot, which delivers its own flashy, involved moves like this rum punch, concealed under a damn bowler hat along with the cherrywood smoke lacing it. And naturally, it's served in a glass with a built-in straw.
House of Wolf
This is the Wolf's Blood. A waitress wearing a small, chilled bottle of cognac around her neck arrives at your table and places a petri dish with a spherified black cherry in it; then, using a vintage hypodermic needle, she draws out the fluid and injects it into the bottle, before placing it around your neck, so it can see what it'll be making its way down in the imminent future. That is the Wolf's Blood. They've also got a vase full of a hibiscus vodka cocktail, complete with a flower in it... except the flower is edible, and the stem is a straw. It's like booze-Wonka.
69 Colebrook Row
Officially called "the bar with no name", this spot's helmed by Tony "the Heston Blumenthal of cocktails" Conigliaro. His laboratory's a couple of doors down, where's he's designed the likes of this Prairie Oyster, made using spherified tomato in an alginate casing, as well as a drink that's made from "distilled clay, flint, and lichen", and is likely to make you stone-drunk.
These guys use strange ingredients. So strange, they were literally busted by the police for one of them (it was illegal Japanese whale-skin whiskey), and have to have a glossary at the end of their menu to explain their plankton (a natural sea plant specifically cross-bred by a Michelin-starred chef exclusively for this bar) and bee pollen syrup (usually fed only to a queen bee… she's going to hate you). The drinks these go into include a number served in a seashell -- they say that if you hold it up to your ear, you can hear the sound of your drink pouring into your ear, and people laughing at you.
Bompass & Parr
Although not technically a bar, these dudes hold regular pop-ups, with part of the appeal being their ever-changing, frantically inventive style -- past events have seen them create a "walk-in gin & tonic" (seriously, a bar filled with a fine mist that can get you loaded), and an entire building flooded with four tons of punch.
Any other insane cocktail cities, please stand up... if you haven't already had too much Wolf's Blood.