I’m a sucker for a secret bar, I know some people don’t like it, but it can be a lot of fun. The key is for the exploration to be fun, and for you and the bar to be in on the secret together. As soon as the secret element becomes too much about exclusion and pretension, it loses its charm.
For this reason, and many others, I love Callooh Callay. Tucked away off the main drag in Shoreditch, London, it has all the fun of a secret bar but never leaves you feeling left out. We made an unplanned visit recently when we found ourselves in the area, and wanted to show some friends who hadn’t been there before. We made our way into the small front bar area, and quietly asked if there might be any room ‘on the other side of the wardrobe’. Luckily, there was a table booked for a party not due for another hour, so we took our chance. Once through the Narnia-style wardrobe door, we found ourselves inside a beautifully decorated room, with tin bath sofas and tables made out of sewing machine stands!
Assisted by the lovely and knowledgeable Chloe, we perused the fascinating little menu, cleverly set out on an old fashioned cassette tape liner (how old did I feel knowing that some young people wouldn’t even recognise these!) – full list of drinks on their website.
With such an intriguing menu, it seemed only right for us to each try something different.
Santa Teresa Rum, Pineapple Syrup, Lime Juice, Orange Bitters and Fresh Thyme served over crushed ice
Wray and Nephew over-proof Rum, Kamm and Sons Ginseng Spirit, home-made Falernum, Pimento Dram Herbal Liqueur, Pineapple Juice, Lime Juice, Cane Syrup and Bitterman’s Tiki Bitters
The Howling Ban-She
Ban Poitin, Cocchi Americano Vermouth, White Tea, Rosemary Syrup and Citric Sugar
1800 Coconut Tequila, Cocchi Torino and Cocchi Rosa Vermouths, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Orange and Boker’s Bitters
And different they were! Each served in its own style, from a tiny coupe to a hurricane glass, they all had such depth of flavour and fascinating combinations. Group consensus voted Cocotinez as the favourite (the small brown one) but they were all delicious in their own way.
This shows how important the role of syrups, fruits and bitters are alongside good quality spirits and liqueurs. This is not a place to play drinking games and get through as many drinks as you can, this is a place to slowly savour the benefits of talented mixologists in a creative environment.
We were sad to leave when the time came, and will definitely be going back. There was whisper and rumour of an even more secret bar, upstairs, where the experimentation continues and new exciting cocktails are born. I can only hope next time we might be invited into the inner sanctum…
For now, if you are feeling left out, why not make yourself a drink and hide in the wardrobe? Who knows, maybe one day you’ll find a world behind the coats.
Have a lovely weekend, and whatever you do, enjoy (responsibly) x