If you’ve not at least heard about Nightjar, it’s high time you got out more. Owned by leading London drinks maestros Edmund and Rosie Weil, the subterranean jazz lounge tucked discreetly behind a black oaken door on Old Street is one of London’s most impressive cocktail bars.
The place is known for it’s great live jazz, blues and ragtime sets, polished service, and for that fact that every mixologist behind the bar is trained in the art of tossing his concoctions three feet through the air from shaker to shaker. To be blunt, the speed at which the staff work alone is worth a visit. It’s been voted one of the world’s best bars consecutively every year since 2011 – and it shows.
And, if that little lot doesn’t tickle your tastebuds, Nightjar unveiled a new menu at the start of the summer season, inspired by the arts and crafts movement of the late 1900s. It sits alongside an already expansive cocktail list that traverses four key periods in booze history; pre and post-prohibition, post-war and ‘Nightjar Signatures’ – read ‘present day’.
The ‘arts and crafts’ menu is among the bar’s most inventive yet, mixing precise presentation with quirky reinterpretations of long-forgotten recipes from archive cocktail recipe books dating between 1880 and 1920. Head Bartender Antonio Pescatori and his team decided to explore the synergies between bartenders and artists, so each drink on the new menu is served in unique glassware sourced, carved and decorated by the Nightjar team. Arty and crafty, indeed.
The drinks themselves are, of course, superb. The Olivette is a real highlight, and combines Ketel One vodka, Rinomato Aperitivo, Apricot beer (apparently that’s a thing), prosecco, Buchu leaf liquor (I’m out of guesses, too) and Kalamata olive brine. Inspired by a recipe found in Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails by Harry Macelhone, 1925, it’s refreshing but savoury and serious, too. It’d stand up to a Martini or a Negroni S’bagliato served anywhere else, no problem.
Other standouts include the Honeymoon (Glenfiddich 12-year-old, house-made forbidden fruit liqueur, artichoke mead wine, Bulgarian rose infusion, myrrh absinthe bitters), which is dark, tart and bitter, plus the Fandango, which arrives at the table in the most colourful of hand-painted chalices, offering up a potent mix of Ysabel Regina, Avuá Amburana Cachaça, Port, Amontillado sherry, Madeira and Amarguinha Liqueur.
A few words on the classics, too. They really do get better with age. I first started drinking the Corpse Reviver No.1 (great name) two years ago and every time I order one it surprises me. The tapas bar snacks are likewise ample, you can’t go wrong with ham croquettes, Bourbon BBQ chicken wings or soft shell crab to wash down a punchy cocktail or two.
Nightjar then, is as swish as it ever has been, and it’s new cocktails are true to form; complex, exotic. No wonder then, if you want to visit, you’ll need to book at least six weeks in advance. But, it’s worth it, if only to watch those barmen throw their drinks around…