A long-time favourite, The Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge is where the Hoodooist fell in love with Tony Conigliaro’s work. The townhouse itself is hidden away and fairly discreet behind the more demanding Zetter Hotel and surrounding restaurants, but the design inside is unlike anything else in the area.
Deep reds lend to the Victorian-boyishness of the venue – between fireplaces crowned with stuffed parasol-wielding cats, and boxing kangaroos. Don’t let the ping-pong table in the Games Room (which can be hired for events) fool you; every inch of the luscious plushness of the venue is decorated with eccentricity. I could claim that this up there with the Artesian and Bar Americain (Click HERE for Review!) as one of the best looking bars in London.
The cocktail list is equally impressive. Altering every few months, some classics stay ever present. The general theme (at least amongst the most fascinating drinks) is short, but strong and intense in flavour, as well as being a bit experimental without trying far too hard – just the Hoodooist’s style, and reminiscent of the Megaro Bar.
Every single drink on the house cocktail list is one the Hoodooist would enjoy. Each is 9.5 (as well as house cocktails from the past no longer on the menu), but other drinks and classics will be 10.5 pounds.
Let’s look at one of the shining glories of the list: The Flintlock. Beefeater 24 gin, gunpowder tea tincture, sugar, dandelion & burdock bitters, and Fernet Branca. It opens up with the Fernet Branca and gunpowder tea, leading to the strongest flavour of the drink: the dandelion sweetness. Sweet though it is, it never wanders far from the simmering deep fieriness of the more complex flavours.
The Drie Van Drie is present for whisky fans – infused with seaweed, with salted-liquorice bitters and sherry. Besides being a fantastic tipple, you may have to ask for another drop of the bitters to add a bit of complexity to it, or the whisky can overpower the rest of the cocktail. A very short drink, it still takes a while to enjoy with its strength and intensity. The seaweed is less of a punch-you-in-the-face flavour, but adds instead, an ambience to the experience. The sherry is unmistakable and warms the drinker nicely.
For long drinks, the Milk Collins is an excellent choice – don’t fear the milk syrup, it is spectacularly welcoming to what would otherwise be a classic gin/lemon/sugar/soda combo. Normally fearing the long drink, even the Hoodooist took to the Milk Collins pretty quickly. Otherwise, there is the mysterious Ivy, Perrier Jouet Champagne with sugar that has been doused in ivy aromatics is a drink (though long), but be drunk quickly after a couple of minutes of breathing. The first half of the drink is fairly uninteresting, but the last half suddenly explodes with an enchanting greenness from the ivy. Apologies, but ‘enchanting greenness’ is the only way I could describe the ivy – you’ll know it when you taste it.
Let’s end with the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of the ZTH bar: Les Fleurs du Mal. It was removed from the menu quite a while ago, but the bartenders still get orders for it from old fans. Ordering it might be met with a sigh. Absinthe, rose vodka, lemon and egg white – the drink certainly has the strong absinthe flavour, the rose is faded behind the citrus. It’s worth trying if you’ve gone through the rest of the menu. It could do with a bit more rose, and less citrus.
Oh, and do not miss the anchovy-stuffed deep-fried olives, or the chocolate fudge. You will thank me later.
Service is excellent, informative, and engaging. Bartenders are happy to elaborate on drinks, make suggestions and knock something up if necessary. The ZTH is crowded most of the time, but service is much better when crowded. Exhaustion tends to set in when the bar finally empties out, so make the most of the crowded hours.
At the end of it all, it is difficult for me to find fault with the Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge. Tony C. really put himself into this bar, and the décor is exquisite. With impeccable service and drinks, it is a wonderful place to get away from the City and seclude yourself amongst the couches, pillars and curtains of the ZTH. Still ranking as one of my favourite venues in London.
Update Late 2014: Since some staff changes, there has been a slight decline in service, a shame considering how the bar excels in other ways.
Service: ** – ***
The Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge,
49-50 St John’s Square,
London, EC1V 4JJ