The Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge, Clerkenwell

Type of Bar: Hotel, Lounge, Victorian
Damage££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups

If you’re looking for the Zetter Townhouse Marylebone & Seymour’s Parlour (opened 2015), Click HERE!

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.

ZTHlobby

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.

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Drie Van Drie (L), The Flintlock (R)

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.

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Foreground: Constantinople (L), Les Fleurs du Mal (R); Background: Milk Collins (L), The Ivy (R)

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.

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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.

Drinks: *****
Atmosphere: *****
Service: ** – ***

The Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge,

49-50 St John’s Square,
London, EC1V 4JJ

http://www.thezettertownhouse.com/clerkenwell/bar

5cc London

Type of Bar: Basement, Speakeasy
Damage££
Ideal for: Small groups, early evening

I’m sometimes surprised that the 5cc is often overlooked, especially considering how insanely busy the venues they are hidden in are.

I say hidden in, since the punters of the Well & Bucket, and Exmouth Arms, seem almost completely oblivious to the cocktail den hidden under and above (respectively) the said pubs. True, reservations are necessary considering the size of both venues, where visitors sneak in to the little hideaways.

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Image courtesy of 5cc London

Though they share the same furniture, the atmosphere of each venue is entirely different. When entering the Well and Bucket on Bethnal Green Road, you are met with a warped impression of a Victorian pub, with ceiling to floor length mirrors and mirrored portraits of decaying 19th Century gentry on dark wood panels. Impressive as the aura is, we take the stairs in the corner down to the basement, where leather couches line the walls and the tiny alcoves of the crypt with its exposed brick wall. Fleetwood Mac plays in the background while the Hoodooist and his friends excitedly charge in to possess a dark alcove for themselves.

The Exmouth Market venue is entirely different. The Exmouth Arms is a similarly dark pub decorated with Dan Hillier prints. Whereas the pub has terribly bad service (“What’s Armangac?” – it was on the menu.), you can escape up the staircase that’s rather well hidden near the fire exit. The 5cc upstairs is docked with black blinds and exposed bulbs, creating an aura of a Film Noir detective’s office – very different from the East London crypt.

The cocktail menu is vibrant and rum heavy, mezcal plays its part as well. Beginning with a Don Collins (overproof rum and grapefruit, charged with cider), was far more satisfying than expected, considering the Hoodooist isn’t a fan of tall drinks. The citrus of the grapefruit is not overpowering, and helps sweeten the cider’s acidity. This was followed by a 151 Express: Goslings 151 proof rum, coffee liqueur in espresso. With previous experiences with Goslings, I was, again, surprised – to find a smooth drink sneakier than you could imagine. A great digestif, the rum was subtle and would catch up with you by the end of the sweet, caffeinated cocktail.

I ended by asking the bartender for an off-menu cocktail off the top of his head. What I got was a ‘daiquiri with bourbon’ (I doubt it still counts as a daiquiri). Bourbon, crème de peche, orange for citrus, and sugar. My skepticism was sated with a short drink that perhaps was more of a sour, but an excellent one.  The right balance of tart and sweet in its etched crystal glass, and one you could take your time with.

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Image courtesy of 5cc London

House cocktails are excellent, in wonderful atmospheres away from the bustle. 5cc also provides ‘vintage cocktails’ with heavily aged liquors – a Martinez, and 7-gins-to-1-vermouth Martini at 45 pounds each. Don’t forget to ask for Forgotten Range: shaken moons ago and perhaps left behind.

5cc is a welcome bar with skill in both highly commercial areas of BGR and Exmouth Market that pay little attention to what they offer in drinks.  Pop by early on the in the evening for a quiet drink with friends, or surround yourself with strangers more than happy to be in conversation in the cosy environment.

Drinks: ***
Atmosphere: ***
Service: ****
5cc can be found

@ Well and Bucket, 143 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 7DG;
& @ Exmouth Arms, 23 Exmouth Market , London, EC1R 4QL;
& @ Harrild and Sons, 26 Farringdon Street, London, EC4A 4AB.

http://www.5cc-london.com/