“Meet at the steps of Granary Square at 6.30pm” reads the text message from The Captain. That’s pretty much all we know. We duly turn up, basking briefly on the granite steps as Disco Volante glides promptly into view. The canal boat – replete with a fully fitted bar in the galley – takes small groups of up to 10 people for a leisurely chug up towards Islington, chilled cocktails in hand.
Vestal Vodka is Kentish Town’s very own spirit, and Mr VV, aka Will Borrell, its charismatic champion. Longer term readers might remember that he won us over by swooping into The Oxford one snowy evening dressed in a white suit and brandishing a suitcase full of the good stuff. Since then his vintage vodkas have gained a real following, appearing behind all discerning K-Town bars while also picking up national press attention.
As hirsute as a thoroughbred sea dog, barman Stephen knows how to make the complex flavours of the various small batch vodkas sing. There is no cocktail menu. Just tell him what kind of thing you fancy and he gets to work.
Potato-based Podlasie vodka gives our first summery, fruity drinks some big balls, as we enjoy the orange tinge of the evening sunlight. Shortly we’re sliding into the very bowels of Angel, swallowed by the strange darkness of Islington Tunnel.
“Stephen is the most standup man I know,” say Will, of his clearly talented mixologist. “He was at Made in Camden and then the soon-to-be-bulldozed Crown & Goose. He’s always done our pop-ups and now the boat too.”
The mood becomes increasingly jovial as we moor up on the Hackney side, homeward-bound fixie cyclists eye us enviously from the towpath as we all chatter and clink a little too loudly. Those drinks are strong.
Will and his crew are “setting sail” up to four times a day at the moment, so the sight of enthused cocktail drinkers on the water must have become a curious regularity in these parts. The lack of cat swinging space on a narrowboat makes for an unavoidably social environment. It doesn’t take long for the various small groups on our particular trip to be getting on like its 4am in the kitchen at a house party.
As darkness descends, it’s the ideal time to revisit the bar. Stephen has just produced a show stopping Vestal Kaszebe-based Bloody Mary. It’s the kind of drink you’d hope to be served when perched in front of the window at one of the swanky joints up The Shard, but tastes that much better for being quaffed floating below street level, traversing London’s Victorian canal system.
Will isn’t stopping with just one unusual bar concept. Excitingly, he’s poised to open a full time dry land operation right in the heart of Kentish Town later this year too. He remains coy over its exact location, except to say that it’s in a hidden space that has not been open since 1974.
Until then, a voyage on the canal has enough of a quirk-factor to do his striking drinks justice. And the food options upon reaching Granary Square again mean your day/evening can roll onwards equally deliciously. We pretty much guarantee you’ll be in the mood for going a little overboard.
Vestal Voyages sail 3 times daily, tickets are £25 and include 2 cocktails. Email email@example.com to book