London Cocktail Club Liverpool Street: Review
A warning to the old or the old at heart: they play their music loud at the London Cocktail Club. As we descended the steps from the entrance on Bishopsgate, they were blaring ’00s Brat Rock at full volume. It was like having Avril Lavigne shouting in your head.
Or perhaps it was just the age of our group, because nobody else seemed to mind. There were couples on dates, friends chatting normally without shouting, and people (even) older than us. It was all very strange, as if we were the only ones who could hear the music. Then the bar staff started banging the metal lamp shades like cymbals in time and the spell was broken. It’s one of those places where the staff look like they’re having just as much fun as the customers, if not more.
We squeezed into a booth clearly designed for much shorter and slimmer people. Despite all the fun behind the bar, the drinks arrived quickly. The staff were very charming and seem to have developed specially honed senses so even though we couldn’t hear them, they could hear us. After a while, as the magic of alcohol and company took hold, the music didn’t seem so loud. Or perhaps they turned it down.
We were tempted by the Cheeky Nandos – based on Jack Daniel’s and peach liqueur, serves 14 and costs £100 – but instead, we went for some more mundane drinks. A British Negroni, made from gin, Kamm British Aperitif and Martini Rubino (£10) is a lighter take on the classic drink and, though we’re more partial to the traditional version, was good with a lovely vanilla note at the end. Even better was a Smoked Demerara Old Fashioned (£10), containing Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Angostura bitters and Ardbeg 10-year-old, the smokiness of the Islay whisky a great foil to the sweetness of the Bourbon.
Less successful was the Smoking Barrel, a Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel and cherry-based cocktail which arrived at the table in a bottle of smoke. It was great theatre but the taste was underwhelming. At £12, it was the most expensive cocktail we tried. It was, at least, better than the Heisenberg (£9.50), which we didn’t manage to finish. It’s inspired by the television series Breaking Bad and comes garnished with a baggie of blue salt, which is apparently meant to look like crystal meth. The taste was like a much too sweet margarita and reminded us of the bad old days, when cocktails were luridly coloured and teeth-rottingly sweet.
Finally, for those who have given up drinking and replaced it with looking smug – we tried an alcohol-free Piña Colada (£5), which was perhaps the best drink of the night. It was creamy and tasted of good quality pineapple juice, though would have been even better with a dash of Mount Gay Rum.
It’s just the kind of thing that would have been done extremely badly in the chain bars of old. The London Cocktail Club is a small chain; the first was opened in Covent Garden in 2008 by JJ Goodman and James Hopkins. In 2009, they won a reality TV show called The Restaurant, judged by Raymond Blanc and restaurant entrepreneur Sarah Louise Willingham, who has worked with Pizza Express, Bombay Bicycle Club and Planet Hollywood. Knowing a good thing when they see it, both Blanc and Willingham are on the board of directors for LCC. The chain is now expanding fast.
All have different décor; the Liverpool Street branch, their ninth venue, is done up like a vintage fairground, with drums, tiger skin (not real), banquettes and a Zoltar machine, like in the Tom Hanks film Big. There’s probably a factory somewhere that turns out authentic Edwardian fortune-telling machines, just as there are companies that supply clobber for Irish-themed pubs. LCC is essentially a theme bar: the theme is a trendy east London bar for those who don’t want to walk half a mile up the road to Shoreditch. Oddly, LCC also have a branch in Shoreditch, which seems a bit like opening an Irish theme bar in Dublin.
If this sounds disparaging, it isn’t meant to be. LCC is so much better than the chain bars from the ’90s. It’s also refreshing to see good quality cocktails done without the po-faced reverence you get in some places. Though it’s not exactly cheap, neither is it particularly expensive. Cocktails are meant to be fun and the LCC is definitely fun. If they would turn down the music a little, we would go back in a shot.
London Cocktail Club, 206–210 Bishopsgate, EC2M 4NR
JOL was invited to review London Cocktail Club on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.