What with Christmas and then a week or two of (miserably failed) January abstinence we’ve only made a couple of visits so far to Kentish Town’s most visible new bar. You know, the former public toilet with the eye-catching illuminated sign that had to fight pretty hard into existence.
So let’s descend the steps – for years gated and strewn with litter – and enter through the thick velvet curtain, to find an interior tinier and more understated than might be expected. (And, of course, there’s not a cracked china urinal, a whiff of bleach or corner of peeling paint to behold.)
The original khazi stone floor remains, as does some of the white tiling, now a classy back bar; while the decor is a mixed bag of retro, found and salvaged items. The outsize twin industrial pendants hanging over the counter were discovered, says owner Will Borrell (of Vestal Vodka fame), in a local skip, while green wall uplights were rescued from a closed pub in Clerkenwell. Shelves of paperbacks donated by a woman in Highgate Village are already so popular that customers leave notes in them. (And, we hear, steal the odd one, too.)
The tone is further set by jazz records emanating from a charming old Hi-Fi stack, which, says Will, “combines a 90s turntable with an amp from the 80s, speakers from the 70s and a spectrometer from the 60s.” How very cross-generational.
A little like the clientele, in fact, whose diversity of ages on our last visit was reflected in everyone from older women guffawing around bottles of wine to twentysomething hipsters, romancing couples and tipsy office workers.
The end result is a relaxed atmosphere that encourages bonhomie and sociability; it already feels like a more established neighbourhood bar. A press of customers perched on stools swigging bottles of Camden Hell’s beer, and the bartenders certainly weren’t pushing pricier cocktails on everyone. All the while, in the corner, a 16 litre copper alembic still bubbles away, all set to produce a hundred bottles a day of “Kentish Town gin”. Its ingredients, such as gooseberries, mint and angelica root, are locally sourced, either from allotments or foraged.
So what are the libations actually like? You can order any classic cocktail, of course – but the bespoke menu of daily specials (£8 a pop), concocted by Will and his affable head mixologist Fraser (who has done time in Soho and Shoreditch), is well worth exploring.
We started with a Rhubarb and Custard, served in the iconic Birds’ tin (right): despite evoking uncalled-for childhood memories of the icky dessert, the tangy fruit (together with a dash of lemon juice) delivered a satisfying tartness, with a real kick from the Portobello gin. Another gin-based option is the Pear Collins, which matched sweet, earthy fruit juice with a dash of spumante to create a more refreshing long drink.
Negroni fans may fancy trying out the Dry Daiquiri – otherwise known as a Nimby – which mixes Santa Teresa Claro with Campari, passion fruit and lime. An interesting take on the rum-based classic, for sure, yet for our tastebuds it didn’t quite challenge the bitter potency of the famous Florentine aperitif.
Our favourite concoction to date? A sumptuous Guinness Flip, which hovered somewhere between the world’s finest “artisan” Bailey’s and a very superior espresso martini. Hennessy VS brandy is shaken with dark chocolate liqueur, maple syrup, bitters, a shot of the famous Irish stout and a whole egg for creaminess: the result is utterly moreish, and gorgeous to look at (left).
What with at least three more new cocktail bars on the horizon in this part of Kentish Town (or so we hear), the swanky drinks market will be getting a little crowded as the year progresses. But Ladies & Gentlemen will, we reckon, more than hold its own. Oh, and Shebeen fans will be pleased that popular waitress Fleur is now in full flow here.
One word of advice, however: the joint is slammed to capacity nightly, so we suggest you arrive before 8pm, especially in the latter part of the week.