Atrium Bar @ Aqua Shard, London Bridge

Type of Bar: High-Rise
Damage£££ – ££££
Ideal for: Date, View, Existential Crisis

I’ve avoided writing this one up for a while. But here goes.

The sensible will have made up their mind immediately after the following anecdote.
If one continues reading it really means one’s mind can’t be changed regarding visiting Aqua.

After putting bags through scans and metal detectors, and being sent in the wrong direction, whilst being bothered by several employees en route asking “Are you going to Aqua?”, we finally make it there in all its hotel-lobby-designed glory. A massive space that really needs a bit more lighting at night, utterly packed with people that leave their jackets littering the floor.

Snatching the nearest available table, we observe our bartender, whipping out a pair of coconuts, chopped in half, to prepare his drink.

In the four halves, he pours his ingredients, and hands the coconuts to the punters. Except, two of the coconuts are empty.
Baffled, he refills them and hands them over.
Again, they are empty.
And yes, a third time he tests his quantum coconuts.
A third time they are empty.

Because unbeknownst to him, but very visible to us, we see his arms soaked in the cocktail pouring out of HOLES CUT INTO THE COCONUT SHELL.

This ludicrous display of wasted spirits was interrupted by a stereotype of Aqua frequenter: an annoyed looking young person wielding McQueen, and a collection of massive bags from her shopping trip, repeatedly exiting and entering the bar (all the way up the stairs, out, and then back and down again), but not seemingly doing anything. In a huff, she does this a record 5 times, whilst hitting several punters’ heads with her bags and not caring that she did. And the staff not caring either.

If you must insist on a drink review after that fiasco, then here it is:

The Skyline Cooler: Ketel One Citroen Vodka, Cinzano, absinthe, apple juice, lemon juice, elderflower cordial and fennel seeds – the fennel is mostly drowned out, even the Cinzano, normally a very detectable flavour, is half lost in the juice/cordial overdose. And a volatile ingredient like absinthe probably should not be left in the hands of the coconut fellow above – evident with the overpowering sourness of the drink.

A second tequila and gin drink wielded similar lemon-juice-abused results.

A foul citrus nothing for 13-16 pounds?
London is far too wide and full of treasures for these shenanigans.

Aqua suffers a similar problem as ME London’s Radio Rooftop, where a spoilt 20-something feels they deserve a pat on the back for standing a few floors higher up. Much like that recent London real estate ad that has caused such controversy recently, “Having the world at your feet”.

A destination for fans of Ayn Rand who don’t know what Objectivism actually is, the Aqua Shard becomes a testament to the tasteless.

So I looked out the window at the view, hoping to god the histrionics behind me weren’t real and I wasn’t actually here.

Drinks: ** for quality, but considering value for money: *
Atmosphere: *, but once you add view: **
Service: What service? The staff is all queued outside giving directions.

Atrium Bar @ Aqua Shard

31 Saint Thomas Street,
London, SE1 9RY

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City Social @ Tower 42, Bank

Type of Bar: High Rise, Art Deco
Damage££  £££
Ideal for: View, Date, Small Groups, Large Groups, Food

It’s been open only a couple of weeks, but City Social by Jason Atherton has garnered quite a bit of attention. Rightfully so, bar manager and 2013 UK World Class champion Gareth Evans (of The Blind Pig, Berners Tavern, and Pollen Street Social fame) brings his trademark style 24 floors up. If one hasn’t tried his work yet, think of it being what Steam and Rye *tries* to be, but can’t.

Anyway, City Social is an Art Deco gem. Black and gold, and understated without trying its hardest to rub it in your face (cough certain Mayfair bar cough) – and still has a typically Atherton feel to it. A friend called it ‘mature’, but in the best of ways: relaxed and besuited. The atmosphere changes drastically at night when the crowd picks up – but arriving in time for the sunset is glorious for the view.

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Right, the cocktails. As aforementioned: Typically Evans. Adventurous, quirky, addicted to puns and garnishes. Although I’m fairly sure is completely different from the menus at his other bars which tend to share majority of the same drinks. I was enthusiastic since his ‘Dill or No Dill’ and ‘Piscotheque’ were rather impressive.

We began with the Kammaraderie: Kamm & Sons ginseng spirit, Garriguette strawberries, Maraschino, lemon juice, and strawberry paper (ie, a chewy strawberry stripe). It’s a strawberry assault with a subtle spice to it. The Robin Hood brings Somerset 5 year apple brandy, quince liqueur, honey mead, lemon juice and a ‘mini-apple bullseye’ (a tiny unripe apple, bright and citrus). Not quite sure what to say about this one, it was definitely still a good drink, but you can’t really say what the exact flavours were – which, with such powerfully flavoured ingredients, you’d think would be more prominent. If I had to describe it, I’d definitely say the quince and honey mead, with its texture thinned by the brandy.

The Robin Hood does fall prey to trying to mix too much of a good thing, but it doesn’t take away from the overall experience as a bright and light drink.

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Robin Hood (L); Kammaraderie (R)

We decided, to suit the venue, to order a pair of classics, which the bartenders actually seemed rather excited by. A Perfect Manhattan (Buffalo Trace bourbon) came out perfectly and worthy of applause. The Sazerac (Hine cognac, Bulleit Rye blend) was commendable, though perhaps with a smidge more absinthe than necessary (though that is up to taste).

I will also point out the number of people ordering The Root of All Evil. Probably the quirkiest of the drinks: walnut rum, bramley apply syrup, Poire William, root beer, lime juice, with a garnish of USD.

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Sazerac (foreground); and Manhattan

Service at the bar was excellent, bartenders Omar and Wayne were professional and approachable. Table service was incredibly attentive, almost to a fault. Bar snacks were spectacular. Fried baby Cornish squid with chilli and lime salt were generously portioned; but the goat’s cheese churros with truffle honey stole the show as a savoury bite for the sweet tooth.

All in all, City Social is a welcome arrival amongst the lacklustre high-rise bars in London, blowing them out of the water.  And whereas I generally would recommend classic cocktails here in this exquisitely designed space, it does not take away from the house cocktails still being pleasant and original. Not to mention the food!

The Hoodooist looks forward to return to City Social for a meal with a few Old Fashioneds.

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


City Social @ Tower 42,

25 Old Broad Street, City of London,
London EC2N 1HQ

http://citysociallondon.com/