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A vintage and curious cocktail bar found in some of Bath’s unique vaults; we’re in the heart of this World Heritage City. A quirky and delightful secret for the lucky few that venture to find it, Opium is tucked away under the landmark Pulteney Bridge much like the old Laudinum and Opium dens. The bar is stocked with a wide range of International beers and spirits and staffed by bartenders who can mix and concoct these ingredients into the most wonderous (and affordable) cocktails you’ve ever indulged in.
The name Opium brings to mind hedonism, indulgence, scandal, and the intoxicating scents of a Shanghai parlour back in the 1930’s. Maybe I’ve been influenced by Hollywood, but I imagined low lamps and smoke curling towards the ceiling – something sensual and not altogether legitimate.
And approaching this hidden bar, tucked beneath the shadows of Pultney Bridge in Bath, does indeed feel like you’re descending towards a clandestine rendezvous. A sense of fantastical decadence immediately enveloped me upon entering the small space that serves as the bar serving area – plum-coloured wallpaper adorned with skulls and a huge mounted boar head wearing spectacles and a jaunty top hat.
The decor struck me a being Alexander McQueen meets Tim Burton with a bit of Alice in Wonderland thrown in. In fact, I soon realised that there was a warren-like aspect to these underground vaults – four low ceilinged rooms lead into each other, each as meticulously adorned as the last. Opulent luxury is exuded from the upholstered wingback chairs and chaise lounges, with the just the right amount of shabbiness to make one feel they’re living out the last days of a colonial time. Props litter the low-lit rooms – a gramophone; a honkey-tonk piano; fronded plants in urns. The epicurean theme is most obvious on the ceiling, where a sprawling mural depicting heaven and hell is daubed in rich colours. There’s a sense of being seductively in the know, without being elite.
But on to the cocktails. The list is small but perfectly executed, and the friendly bar tenders are more than keen to give you a recommendation should you need it. I’d already decided to try a delicate pink concoction served in an old-fashioned champagne glass. The petals floating on the surface had me sold, and I discovered I was trying a Lychee Martini. The balance between delicate fruit and rose syrup was just right – any more and it would have been sickly, but as it happened a burst of flavour made me relish each sip until I found myself nibbling the fruit at the end. On to another tropical sensation – a Mai Tai, where the addition of mango helped the rum slip down far too easily. After these sweet indulgences I moved onto a Mojito – I’d asked for it to be more on the lime-heavy side, since I wanted to clear my palate, and was more than pleased with my tartly sour result. A friend helped me out by trying an Old Fashioned – an aficionado, he knows what makes a good one – and the verdict was a hearty thumbs up. Good tumbler, enough ice, and a balance of bourbon and bitters that he claimed rolled nicely on the tongue. See – within two hours of being in Opium we found ourselves talking as if we were enjoying cocktail hour on the cantonment.
I completely recommend Opium for a fabulous night out where one can revel in theatrical surroundings and enjoy well-priced, well-made cocktails. If you like to ensure you have a seat then come early, but if you don’t mind standing round and rubbing shoulders as if you’re at a secret club then pop by any time and throw yourself into a world of underground fantasy.