A school for bartenders. Sounds like our idea of fun, and this is the gift that the Shaker Bar Schools bring to the world; dedicated to training the next generation of star bartenders. With outposts in Cape Town and Johannesburg, this new bar acts as a training centre for London bartenders.
Recently taking over the site of previous bar Positively 4th Street, Shaker & Co. have training and education at the core of their business, as well as a rather smart bar here in the wasteland of decent drinking dens that is the Hampstead Road, as it scuttles away from Fitzrovia and up towards Hampstead. In a bizarre twist, the old London Temperance Hospital is across the road, opened in 1873, a historical haven for those trying to kick the booze - luckily for Shaker, it has been abandoned for years.
Ambience and decor
The long bar dominates the room, with an intriguing collection of antique cocktail shakers placed above the spirits, showing that the guys give a damn about the history and provenance of the cocktails, with all the classic cocktail reference books on show. The official shtick is that its a "New Orleans inspired cocktail saloon", and there's plenty of comfort reclining into a leather sofa and admiring decanters fashioned into lampshades. The style is a kind of speakeasy "lite", with none of the sepulchrous hideaways and cosy corners of the extreme end of the genre, a soft introduction into the prohibition vibe. Hardcore enthusiasts will still hanker for the real deal if they've just returned from NYC. The basement room will be a shifting space supported by one of the sponsors, on a first visit decked out like a Benedictine monastery, another visit seeing it transformed into a garish white and red, sponsored by Belvedere vodka.
Inside Shaker & Company Bar, Euston London
Clientele and atmosphere
On a couple of visits, the crowd was good humoured and ready to experiment, no industry types were found propping up the bar, just an enthusiastic collection of after work drinkers - no cocktail bores here, berating your choice of cocktail. Music on a given night could include one of their Blues Nights on a Thursday, recently featuring Blues session pianist and singer Eric Ranzoni . Acoustic sets on a Wednesday from Toby Connor fill the room with sounds of Americana of the deep south.
Drinks and Food
Career bartenders who give a damn, mixing your drink with care and precision - you'll struggle to find more dedication behind the bar in London. We rattled through most of the menu over a couple of visits. Highlights included the Potato Sack Sour, an effortlessly drinkable beauty made with a gin that has been barrel-aged in-house, then tricked out with Benedictine, Aperol, Pisco, peach bitters and egg white. A drink reminiscent of liquid Hubba Bubba (original flavour) was always going to get a big tick from us.
The S & Co. comes in its own mini-shaker, with a teasing combination of a subtly spiced in-house cider/chai mix, tamarind, rose and a fearsome blast of Hennessey VS cognac. A dusting of cinnamon flamed as it hits the metal shaker, and you have some theatre too. Keep the shaker for £2.50. A cute touch. Company Girl is supremely balanced, likely to get you in all sorts of trouble as you quickly despatch four without realising it. Belvedere vodka, pineapple, a cranberry reduction, shaken up with egg white - seamless, pretty, and darn perfect. Served in a tea cup for maximum cocktail envy. Call Me The Milkman features a house made cashew "orgeat", blended with Ketel One Vodka, dry orange liqueur, absinthe and lemon. Zingy and zesty to the point of distraction, this is a bartenders favourite. Uncompromising and a definite "session" cocktail. Just keep 'em coming. Most of the cocktails are £7.50, more than fair for drinks made with this flair and precision...you'll find many cocktail bars in London offering a much lower standard of cocktail around the £9.50 mark.
The Shaker and Company master mixologist at work
We don't come to cocktail venues for food. It's usually incidental at worst. Fun at best. Here unfortunately the worst veers precariously to the edge of a cliff heading for a potential crash. Seasoning seems to have been left at base camp as every dish is trotted out with tame flavours. "Jerk" chicken is unfortunately nothing of the sort: It's fried chicken, with almost zero salt or spicing. Soul Food was never like this; dishes essentially drained of soul. Best of the bunch was a chicken Jambalaya spiced bodly with a kick of heat, but the salt cellar was AWOL once more. When cocktails are as good as they are here, any food offering needs to keep pace - here it doesn't. [Since the review one of our secret reviewers has headed back to Shaker & Company to specifically try the food out as we were informed of a new menu and new kitchen staff. We can confirm that the standard of food has risen considerabley with feast-sized soul food platters, which while still not being as authentic as soul food you would taste in New Orleans, it definitely has flavour, guts and some of its soul back!]
A welcome haven of professionally made cocktails by staff who really give a damn and really know what they are doing; definitely worth veering out of Soho for some civilised drinking and a change of scenery. Service is eager and with a smile, though you may end up waiting a while for your drink at busy times - they take their time, and take pride, in each one that goes into the shaker. A cocktail bar run by true cocktail enthusiasts with a well-crafted smattering of live music makes Shaker & Company an exciting new addition to the London cocktail scene. The London Temperance Hospital across the road will not be re-opening, so you'll be free to indulge your cocktail craving without the slightest pang of guilt...