1073 Cocktails and 238 Bars now listed
Our inspiration comes from an age when live music was a customary part of a good night out, drinking was a connoisseur’s game, and hospitality was an art.
Sandwiched between two fast-food establishments, barely far enough from Old St tube for your eyes to adjust to the outside world, is this bar named after a nocturnal bird more commonly associated with open heathland than the urban jungle. Described as being ‘old-school glamour’ this is another iteration of London’s prolific ‘speakeasy’ styled establishments whose attempts to have an understated entrance are somewhat foiled by the presence of prominent door staff making a bit of an unnecessary song and dance about letting you in. It’s not exactly rude, but aloofness is a most unattractive quality in those tasked with greeting guests.
Descending the stairs into this basement bar reveals a venue that is decidedly better-dressed than its surface neighbours. Surprisingly spacious but at times frustratingly dark, the pressed tin ceiling and brass fittings contrast with bare brick to create an appealing visual spectacle. Such aesthetic charm continues with the drink garnishes, which are amongst the most elaborate and intricate to be found anywhere. There is no doubting they look beautiful but one does have to question whether the balance is right when some of them take longer to prepare than the drink itself. Occasionally, as with the flamed lavender sprinkled around the base of my Kinloch Special (cheddar-infused Monkey Shoulder whisky, pomelo jelly, fig perfume, oolong infusion and lemon juice) they serve a purpose to elevate the sensual experience, but in others it is pure extravagance.
The drinks themselves are a frustrating mix of extraordinarily delicious and decidedly average. My Nederland Negroni (red berry-infused Geneva, Zucca Amaro, ale and hop bitters) was a real hit, whilst the Mediterranean Shrub (balsamic-aged Gin Mare, plum, dates, grape) fell squarely into the latter category at best. The list is long and divided into periods of time from which the drinks were supposed to have originated; a move that feels a touch irrelevant given that the descriptions given for their style often is it odds with the drink served. Prohibition Cocktails for example are listed as being “serious cocktails… short, throng and aromatic”, and yet includes a Singapore Sling! Together with the attitude of the bartenders which competes well with the door staff for aloofness, there are too many occasions when the pretty garnishes are inadequate to maintain my interest.
Live music is on offer several nights a week and the bar continues to receive plaudits as one of the best in town. Its attractive decor, music, late licence, innovative-looking drinks and ability to deliver a real corker on occasion will no doubt keep Nightjar busy for some time yet but for me at least, the short stroll down the road to one of its competitors is worth the effort.