We all want to be cool in one way or another, whether that’s by acting all aloof and rebellious like John Bender in the Breakfast Club, or by trying the hardest you possibly can, like that annoying guy from school who posts Hemingway poetry on his Instagram. Unfortunately, a lot of places in London fall into the latter category, but then some bars like Nine Lives come around and, oh boy, they’re smoking a cigarette at the back of class and have already stolen your boyfriend cool.
Venue and Atmosphere
As we know, every cool person in a movie is attractive, and Nine Lives doesn’t disappoint. As you weave your way through the dead-behind-the-eyes Bermondsey area and endless construction work, you’ll find tallies of nine spray-painted on buildings, like little clues to a secret club begging to be found. And once you do, the venue continues to impress, matching tropical elements like blooming greenery, thatch carpets and bamboo shafts against a backdrop of exposed, stain-washed walls. This shabby-chic meets colonial aesthetic really works, all the way to the marble bar (though the illusion is spoilt in the toilets slightly, but you can't wish for the world, really).
I visited on the Wednesday after a Bank Holiday and it was busy. In a good way - more buzzing than jammed - but it’s easy to tell that the bar is already on everyone’s radar, with the crowd mostly staying in the young professional demographic, probably attracted to the pizzas and the shuffleboard table. But, most importantly, a lot of the seats were filled with dates. This bar is designed from the ground up to be a date bar, particularly great on the first. Just make sure you know how to find it first.
Recruiting my most popular friend, we exchanged our painfully Essex Mum remarks of 'it's really pretty in 'ere ain't it' as we walked through the door and turned our focus to the drinks menu. The cocktails are split into four sections: Shorty, Long, Tarted (Up), and Lowriders, and being the shameless alcoholics we are, the two of us started on the ‘Long’ category.
If you're someone who's normally scared off by London cocktail price tags without the safety net of a Happy Hour, you don't have to worry about that here; value for money is underselling it. This bar is called Nine Lives because, if you drink nine drinks, you'll have to call an ambulance. With the exception of the Lowriders, the drinks are strong, my friend. They're also boasting a 'zero waste' policy for drinks, with garnishes and the like being recycled from the kitchen - so if you're into ethical drinking, that's another reason to get down there.
Whiskey fiend that I am, I chose the Thompson (£10), made with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, lemon, maple and orange, while my friend picked the Crossfire Hurricane (£10), made from rums, lemon, orange, pineapple, passion fruit and bitters. The former was, unsurprisingly, sweet, just missing the ‘sickly’ mark thanks to the dry edge of the rye whiskey, making a terminally drinkable beverage. My friend’s was her favourite of the night, with the tropical fruits creating a whirlwind of sunny flavours that would’ve been perfect if we weren't damp from the rain outside. All the drinks are presented simply, but that’s all the better to let the flavours talk.
After asking the super-friendly waiter what he recommended, he suggested the Moby Dick (£10) – a Shorty made from whisky, coconut and salted caramel – for my pal, and the Camber (£9.50), a Tarted (Up) mixed with gin, kombucha (a sweetened tea) and dry vermouth for me. The salted caramel was the winner in the Moby Dick, with the whisky providing a punch strong enough to make Ahab proud. The Camber was my favourite of the night, dense and complex, though every ingredient working well. What's great about Nine Lives is that the drinks arrive fast and they rarely miss a beat. Really, you'll struggle to find something you dislike in the bar.
Nine Lives knocks it out of the park in nearly every aspect: great drinks, knowledgeable and friendly staff, and the atmosphere is so infectious that you could be sitting with your old headteacher from school and still have the most flirtatious conversation of your lives. It might be cool, but it will still melt the ice. In fact, Bermondsey has never been hotter.