Have you made it down yet? If you haven’t, the good news is that basement bar Knowhere Special’s charmingly original spirit is firmly in tact.
It’s a positive end to a pretty tortuous year for owners Helen and her partner Ash. Twelve months ago they were unceremoniously kicked out by a landlord who thought he could do better himself, turning their venue into what he then called the Cave Bar.
It closed just four months after, with the building sold at auction to new owners who made the wise decision to reinstate one of Kentish Town’s truly original drinking destinations.
And it reopened finally a fortnight ago. The speakeasy’s three candlelit ‘cells’ are still there (remember it’s a former jail), seemingly more atmospheric than ever. Their womb-like appeal may, of course, have been accentuated by the freezing cold night outside.
There’s now an additional counter with high stools along the right hand wall, as you enter, handy for walk-ins and giving another, relaxed element to the seating. Bare brick wall, granny’s attic furniture, low lights: tick, tick, tick.
Most noticeable is that the main lounge has a more social layout of sofas, so it’s inevitable you’ll start talking to a neighbour at some point. As we did.On the drinks front, it’s still a combination of cocktail classics plus avant-garde libations with witty names. For those of you who loved the Park Bench, it’ll be back, says owner Ash, but for now he and his team have been busy concocting some new creations.
Our two tips thus far? Gin fans (and the sweet-of-tooth) should try The Trouble Is, a heady concoction of lemon gin, lemon juice and orange blossom, balanced out smoothly with a nut liqueur and a lightly whipped meringue topping, sprinkled with chopped nuts. There’s a surprise to eat with it, too – which we won’t ruin by divulging.
Our favourite though was the witty Orange Pop?? (sic). With this, Ash has applied the Park-Bench style technique to classic 1980s beverage Orangina; it’s even served in one of those distinctive bottles. The brightly-coloured soft drink is boiled down to a reduction, then ‘rebuilt’ with orange vodka, lemon juice, a smooth, a Christmassy orange liqueur and topped with fizz.The talent with this kind of thing is to achieve a taste that is grown-up and not sickly – and he does. It’s the right side of bitter, with a touch of sweetness – and will undoubtedly appeal to Aperol or Campari Spritz lovers seeking something a little more, well, out there. An edible morsel comes on the side.
To mop up these potent drinks, a sharing plates food menu is starting soon. So if you were a fan of Somewhere Over Knowhere, expect similarly hearty dishes.
Overall? A triumphant return for one of 2016’s more heartwarming local stories.