Category Archives: Venues

A Londoner’s Guide to London Cocktail Bars

Guest Post by Mark Gill aka The Cocktail Geek writing for Social and Cocktail. – We are in a fortunate position in London of being utterly spoilt for choice when it comes to quality drinking. From the opulence of five star hotels, to the dark and dingy dive bar basements, we have it all. Whether you prefer something tropically Tiki or seriously sophisticated, it’s all here and everything in between. There isn’t therefore any time to mess around with dodgy venues; what follows is just a sample of the very best.

Callooh Callay photo by Social and Cocktail

Callooh Callay photo by Social and Cocktail

If there is one area of London that epitomises contemporary drinking culture in London it’s over in Shoreditch where the cool kids hang out. And for good reason, it`s home to some of the very best bars in the capital. A relative old-timer but still regular member of many ‘best of’ lists is the award-winning Callooh Callay. This whimsical Alice-in-wonderland-cum-retro-glamour styled bar boasts three different areas serving their innovative utilitarian menu famous for its regular reinvention. From tube maps, to cassette tapes to pantone colour charts, this is a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but does take the serving of excellent cocktails very seriously indeed. Just around the corner is the teeny tiny Casita, probably London’s best dive bar. Come here for shots and simple unpretentious classics; leave thinking the next morning is gonna hurt! Shoreditch is also home to the rapidly up and coming Happiness Forgets, where every basement ‘speakeasy’ styled bar cliché is both embraced and thrown out the window at the same time. Few places in the capital can match this bars ability to cram incredible amounts of flavour into every drink they serve, whilst maintaining an effortlessly cool attitude that makes it impossible not to declare it your new favourite place.

69 COLEBROOKE ROW, LONDON N1 8AA, 07540 528 593, WWW.69COLEBROOKEROW.COM - photo courtesy Social and Cocktail

69 COLEBROOKE ROW, LONDON N1 8AA, 07540 528 593, WWW.69COLEBROOKEROW.COM – photo courtesy Social and Cocktail

Heading North from Shoreditch into neighbouring Islington is another bar that must be on everyone’s bucket list. 69 Colebrooke Row has a reputation for serving ‘molecular’ cocktails, but is in fact the source of some of the most classy and reliably well executed drinks you’ll find. The focus here isn’t on clever techniques, but in using science to enhance the sensor experience. This isn’t a place only for cocktail geeks, come here too to fall in love with the world of cocktails. Heading South from your Shoreditch base will cause you to come across an entirely different bar from the same team. The bar at the Zetter Townhouse (I can thoroughly recommend staying here too) is based around the international travels of your fictional Aunt Whilhelmina. This is British eccentricity at its very best, complete with a boxing kangaroo and umbrella-adorned stuffed cat. The drinks each tell a story and, like their siblings over in Islington, pack a flavoursome punch that will have you settled in the games room for many an hour.

Marks Bar photo by Social and Cocktail

Marks Bar photo by Social and Cocktail

The centre of town is the place to head for unadulterated luxury courtesy of the various internationally-recognised hotels. The Connaught, the Savoy and the Dorchester all come highly recommended, and without even a hint of stuffiness. Pricey they may be, but you can’t say you have experienced the best of London without a visit to one of these. The centre of town is also home to a smattering of ‘regular’ cocktail bars; particularly those with a restaurant attached. Mark’s Bar at Hix makes a big thing of using various infusions to create a menu that is impressive in its detail and never short of an unusual flavour or two. Even more interesting is the bar at Pollen Street Social, where the blend of ideas from the culinary and drinks world cross-pollinates to create some very interesting results. Those looking for simple pleasures and informal dining to boot will do worse than pop into Polpo for drinks served almost as a casual afterthought to cause surprise by their pleasing execution. It would of course be rude not to pop into the institution that is Rules whilst you’re in the area. By far the best reason to go to Covent Garden, head up the stairs to be whisked back in time to when service was King and your drink was just perfect.

There is of course one thing that a visit to London just shouldn’t be without; a most incredible Martini. For this, you will need to head to the bar at Dukes hotel. Order a Martini here and you’ll be served tableside from the Martini trolley. Into a frozen glass will be dashed just a few splashes of dry vermouth, before being filled to the brim with your choice of straight-from-the-freezer gin. The choice of garnish is yours, but there really isn’t anything that can beat the crack of an Amalfi lemon zest over your steaming cold cocktail. If there is a better way to spend an hour in London, I’ve not found it.

Social and Cocktail is the fastest growing cocktail website in the UK, focusing on cocktail recipes, bars and reviews. The site currently has over 1000 cocktail recipes, categorised by base spirit, type of cocktail and flavour, making it much easier to find a cocktail to suit your taste. The site profiles 180 of the best Cocktail Bars in the UK and is constantly checking in to review these establishments. On top of this, the site has a daily cocktail blog, regular interviews with the movers and shakers of the cocktail world and a monthly newsletter. Have a chat on Twitter @SoCocktail

Cheri Loughlin Beverage Consultant & Photography Services

All content ©2013 Cheri Loughlin, The Intoxicologist. All Rights Reserved. Chat with Cheri @Intoxicologist on Twitter and facebook.com/Intoxicologist or str8upcocktails@gmail.com

Classic Cocktails at The Peninsula Chicago

One of the drawbacks of working with cocktails and spirits on a daily basis is deciding what to order from cocktail menus when I go out for drinks. I know; sounds like a horrid problem. But it really is difficult. Often the same handful of classic cocktails appear on the menu with a variety of either way too sweet or way too outlandish signature drink recipes on the opposite side.

Champs Elysees at The Bar at The Peninsula Chicago 016

Two weekends ago I was fortunate enough to visit one of my favorite Chicago hotel bars; The Bar at The Peninsula Chicago. The Bar is a chosen favorite due to the superior quality of service, its intimate, yet dynamic atmosphere and the attention to detail that goes into the cocktails offered on the menu as well as the manner in which they are served. The Bar’s staff is superb for their cocktail knowledge, skill and the manner in which they regard every guest with special attention.

Though I’ve enjoyed the Vieux Carré cocktail before, I usually enjoy this classic cocktail served up in a martini glass. The Bar serves the Vieux Carré on the rocks as it was originally intended. This 1930’s classic cocktail was the creation of Walter Bergeron and named after an old French term in relation to New Orleans’ French Quarter (le Vieux Carré) meaning, “the Old Square.”

Vieux Carré Cocktail

3/4 ounce Rye WhiskeyVieux Carre Classic Cocktail on the Rocks with Glace Ice Image 012 1

3/4 ounce Cognac

3/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth

1 Barspoon / 1 teaspoon Benedictine

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

Lemon Twist

Combine liquids in cocktail shaker with ice. Stir or shake to chill. Strain into rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with lemon twist.

How appropriate the Vieux Carré cocktail continues to make an appearance on hotel bar cocktail menus as it was originally created at what now is the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. Its hotel bar, Carousel Bar, sometimes substitutes dry vermouth for sweet vermouth. Try the Vieux Carré drink recipe both ways to see how you prefer it.

Though the Martinez cocktail comes up often in social media chatter, I rarely see this particular drink recipe on cocktail menus. It’s also a cocktail recipe I’ve never personally stirred up and poured for myself. When I saw it on The Bar cocktail menu it was an immediate must-try.

The MartinezThe Martinez Cocktail from The Bar at The Peninsula Chicago

2 ounces Carpano Antica Formula (Sweet Vermouth)

1 ounce Ransom Gin

1 Tablespoon Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Liqueur

Dash Angostura Bitters

Lemon Peel Garnish

Combine liquids in cocktail shaker with ice. Stir to chill. Strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with fresh lemon twist.

The Martinez is fairly sweet with a unique flavor combination achieved with the inclusion of the Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Liqueur. This classic cocktail is a predecessor to the classic Martini. Once dry vermouth became plentiful, the Martinez took a back seat to the Martini and bar goers hardly looked back from their Gin Martinis. They just began adding a wider variety of garnish. If you take a closer look at the ingredients you’ll see the Manhattan in its early stages.

Ironically I just talked about the inclusion of the Champs Elysées classic cocktail on another restaurant’s bar menu last week. This is another cocktail I’ve sipped martini style, but The Bar serves on the rocks. I sampled this drink recipe martini style and on the rocks at The Bar in Chicago to test a theory; would it taste differently if it were made exactly the same, yet served differently? The answer; yes it did and I will most likely sip this one on the rocks from here on out. It was that much better in my opinion.

Champs ElyséesChamps Elysees at The Bar at The Peninsula Chicago 016

1-1/2 ounce Cognac

1/2 ounce Green Chartreuse

3/4 ounce Lemon Juice

1/2 ounce Simple Syrup

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Lemon Twist – Optional

Combine liquids in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake to blend and chill. Strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

The Champs Elysées recipe I posted last week is a little different than the one here. Last week I modified the classic to my taste preference. This week the recipe appears as it is most often referenced by authorities in classic mixology. This version produces a bit sweeter cocktail than my adjusted variation.

The Bar at The Peninsula Chicago also served another favorite; the Corpse Reviver. This cocktail is often thought of around Halloween time due to its name, but the Corpse Reviver is a refreshing cocktail ideal for leisurely summertime sipping. It’s lightly tart with an almost sparkling lilt to it with its faint absinthe inclusion. It’s a drink recipe that should make every classic cocktail enthusiasts “must-try” list.

Champs Elysees at The Bar at The Peninsula Chicago 016

There really is something for everyone at The Bar at The Peninsula Chicago. Scotch flights for the whisky enthusiast, signature cocktails for the adventurous cocktail lover, wine and champagne and of course an array of delicious menu items from the hotel’s wonderful restaurants. Be sure to stop in at The Peninsula Chicago whether it’s for an evening’s stay, dinner or for a drink before evening plans. You’ll be treated well.

Thank you to The Bar’s manager, James, and bartenders, Erik, Tim and Loran for magnificent service, entertaining conversation and delicious cocktails while dining and sipping at The Bar at The Peninsula Chicago.

Cheri Loughlin Beverage Consultant & Photography Services

Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon – str8upcocktails @ gmail.com – ©2013 Cheri Loughlin-The Intoxicologist, All Rights Reserved.

Side Door Lounge, Omaha

Disappointing to say the least. First impression upon entering; one of the bartenders sat atop the back bar flipping through a local weekly paper. She sat there during the entire time we were at the bar, never leaving the spot, never seeing to any customers (albeit there were not many in the place). No matter how dead a bar, a bartender should appear enthusiastic or at least busy behind the bar. After all, bartending is a job; a service industry job at that. Don’t sit on your duff. Tend bar.Sidedoor Omaha IMG_1531 photo copyright Cheri Loughlin

Drink ordered from the menu; Aberdeen Angus with Famous Grouse Scotch, lemon juice, local honey and a little Drambuie $7 – This could have been good in the right ratio, but instead it tasted much like cough syrup instead of a drink. Touch of local honey was way more than a nose burning over pour. There was quite a bit of sloshing outside of the drink while mixing and flaming was going on, so the craft part of this cocktail was lost in execution.Aberdeen AngusIMG_1532 photo copyright Cheri Loughlin

The coolest feature of the bar; the fabulous biodegradable straws served in the ice water.

I’ve heard pros and cons about Side Door Lounge. I’ve heard they have off the wall drink experiments, house made bitters, specialty foams and infusions. I’ve heard the place is packed on Friday and Saturday evening with live local talent, poetry or impromptu acts. What I saw and tasted were nothing of the sort. I found an almost empty bar on a Saturday evening forty minutes later than a hyped Facebook posting of live music beginning. A single guitar was propped against the back wall, but no obvious signs of any live music. I found one bartender completely uninterested in her customers and bartender duties. The other mixed a cocktail no differently than some bars serve Rum & Coke; Haphazardly. Side Door Lounge Omaha IMG_1527

Side Door Lounge offers its clientele “inspiring libations” yet delivered much less the evening I happened to stop by. Placing a bar in a hole in the wall with hip name, eclectic atmosphere and dark lighting doesn’t do the trick when consistency and service are not part of the formula. There is much more to be said for an ordinary bar that serves consistent Vodka & Cranberry’s, Martinis and neat drinks than a place hoping “craft menu” with a few unusual spirits sprinkled in will make up the difference.Art WorkIMG_1524 photo copyright Cheri Loughlin

In my opinion, Side Door Lounge isn’t the craft cocktail stop in Omaha with “inspiring libations.” It has a long way to go.

Cheri Loughlin is a leading cocktail and photography resource for beverage companies, event planners, businesses and individuals. High resolution cocktail and beverage stock photography images are available in downloadable digital format in the newly redesigned Stock Photography Gallery at www.cheriloughlin.com.

Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon – str8upcocktails @ gmail.com – ©2012 Cheri Loughlin-The Intoxicologist, All Rights Reserved. All opinions, reviews and spirits’ coverage are the personal opinion and decision of Cheri Loughlin.

Perfect Pour at Alembic on Haight

Alembic on Haight - photo courtesy Rob - Colorado

The highlight of conferencing with spirit makers by all rights is meeting the people behind the spirits, placing the human aspect on a cold bottle so the liquid inside has a chance to warm to its fullest potential and then of course tasting these budding offerings as they begin their journey to the shelves of America and beyond.  After a long week of interaction even the movers and shakers behind the brands venture out to meet their perfect pour. 

The last evening of one such conference week found our group at the Alembic bar on Haight in the Ashbury District in San Francisco.  Alembic’s website and actual existence are virtual worlds apart.  As cool as the website portrays their small space to be, the Alembic soars well above hip to the realm of throw-back hippy flair where bartenders know their craft, cocktails become works of art due to the contents rather than some fru-fru garnish and conversation is welcome. 

Although I tasted many cocktails throughout the evening spent at Alembic (the one with radish garnish was to die for!), I only ordered two; Sazerac and The Poop Deck Cocktail.  Both were amazingly phenomenal! 

Straight from Alembic’s cocktail menu:

Sazerac - In New Orleans, they like to do things their own way. Judging by this famous variation on the old-fashioned, that way may be the right way. Sazerac 6yr rye whiskey, the crescent city’s own peychaud’s bitters, a bit of sugar – and a glass rinsed with a green bitter liquid that shall remain nameless.

The Poop Deck Cocktail – It’s hard to resist a cocktail with a nautical theme (or scatological reference for that matter). This classic cocktail blends cognac, port wine, and blackberry brandy, making for smooth sailing on stormy seas. Overindulgence, however, could send a wave up over your stern.

For anyone who walks in without a clue what to order or who happens to be open to anything the bartenders wants to concoct:

Take Your Chances – Don’t feel like deciding tonight? Why not flip into the backseat and let’s just park for a while. Try something new or just an oldie but goodie we are turned on by right now. Let us know what mood you’re in, so we can get the music just right.

The Alembic is a must visit bar for anyone visiting the San Francisco area.  The Alembic bar is the perfect atmosphere for casual conversation among friends without being so large rowdy crowds could carry the night away.  You’ll find classic cocktails tweaked flawlessly with spirits you may have never seen before.  The back wall is filled with bottles in varying shapes and sizes with liquids to tantalize the palate, imagination and fulfill your every liquid desire.  Luckily the bar comes fully equipped with bartenders creatively qualified to craft said cocktails to perfection.   

Cheri Loughlin is a leading cocktail and photography resource for beverage companies, event planners, businesses and individuals. High resolution cocktail and beverage stock photography images are available in downloadable digital format in the newly redesigned Stock Photography Gallery at www.cheriloughlin.com.

Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon – str8upcocktails @ gmail.com – ©2012 Cheri Loughlin-The Intoxicologist, All Rights Reserved. All opinions, reviews and spirits’ coverage are the personal opinion and decision of Cheri Loughlin.