It’s a difficult life, living in East London. The craft beer arms race means a trip down the local will have you drinking some sort of neon-green brewed avocado, and the ratio of homes to pop-up bars has reached critical mass, so I’m not sure if my flat is my flat, or just a very sad immersive pop-up that only serves Buckfast. It was a bit of a surprise, then, when a new bar sprouted up not far from where I live, claiming to cut the pretentiousness and focus on two things: great drinks and a great atmosphere. I needed to see if Horatio Street Social Club was the cool alternative to wackiness that East London is notorious for.
Venue and Atmosphere
It’s a strange feeling walking into Horatio Street Social Club. It sits below the Nelson’s Head, a traditional boozer – and don’t get me wrong, I love traditional pubs; there’s nothing better than shouting about Brexit with a stranger over Fosters – but after the lovely bartenders point you downstairs, you enter a very different world. HSSC is streamlined cool and speakeasy sexy. If this bar was in another bar, I would buy this bar a drink, and it would ignore me. Wood panelled walls and lantern lights give a sort of trendy cabin feel, whereas the low, dark wooden furniture lit by a single candle each brings those moody cocktail bar vibes.
In truth, the bar is all of these things and one, important fact more: it’s social. As soon as we walked through the doors the two owners and operators Simon and Jake offered my friend and I a seat on the bar stools. Dates and friends could easily hide in one of its many corners, or you just plonk yourself at the bar and have a chat. I’d recommend the latter: Simon and Jake are born hosts, they’re hilarious, and they’ll let you in on a few stories that border on ridiculous. While lots of places are called cool hangouts, this genuinely is.
To paraphrase the great sage Shania Twain: okay, they’ve got the looks, they’ve got the chat, but have they got the uh... cocktails. We asked for some recommendations and ended up settling on a Jot + Tittle (£9), made from Tanqueray gin, green apple skin manzanilla, sugar snap pea, and lime, whereas I opted for the Garfield’s Funeral (£10) – having skipped dinner I think I was hoping for an entire tray of lasagne, instead getting a delightful twist on the Old Fashioned made of Lot 40 rye whisky, Angel Share syrup, and black trumpet tincture.
If the words in those ingredients seem complicated, it’s because they are. These guys might be a laugh, but they know their stuff, and this knowledge has created some great drinks. The ice is chopped with a terrifying butcher’s cleaver from a block of ice, which shows off how serious they are about the mixology business. It's also pretty sweet that the Jot + Tittle wasn’t just wonderfully drinkable, but beautiful too.
Having polished those off with remarkable restraint, we moved onto the next round. I opted for the ‘Lips’ (£9), which is presented as a lips emoji on the menu, and is made from ‘electrocuted Ribena’. Luckily, the car battery and pliers were nowhere to be seen, but it did create a drink that tastes exactly how it’s described. A bit electrifying. I would say this is one of the weaker drinks on the menu, especially compared to how delicious the last drink was.
The Duster (£10) was the winner of the evening. Made from a delightful mix of Brown Butter Havana Seleccion de Maestros, pecan, Spanish leather, and Angostura bitters, neither of us could shut up about how much we enjoyed it. It wasn’t even my drink but I sipped half of it, wrestling her out of the way in the name of professionalism. We even encouraged two other punters to have it too. Hands down the best drink I've had this year.
We started at a relatively early 6.30pm and spent the entire time at the bar, chatting to the guys, until close. While I highly recommend going to this bar to try their expertly made cocktails, if you want excellent customer service alongside some of the friendliest service in the city, you’ll get way more out of Horatio Street Social Club.