When it comes to bars in Shoreditch, you’re faced with two sides of the coin. First, there’s after-work-drinking-types; where suited and booted City workers mingle with those looking to take advantage of happy hour prices and then there’s the quality cocktail bars. From underground speakeasies to intimate whisky-led spaces and bartender favourites, these are the places that take imbibing seriously.
One such spot that’s been serving thirsty Londoners for over a decade is Callooh Callay. Holed up on Rivington Street, candlelit tables, a wooden bar and shabby chic chairs give the bar a low key vibe. Beyond the main area is a different story, as a cartoon-covered hallway gives way to bathroom walls plastered in retro tapes the hidden JubJub room above. Churning out all sorts of unique concoctions with a changing menu each year, we've come to expect them shaped like an oyster card, in the style of a Pantone colour chart and even as a yearbook. This time, it’s all about the Cocktail Bar Manual.
Styled after the Haynes auto manual, the current drinks list is split between The Concept, The Plan, The Location, The Design, The Build and The Team. If, like me, car maintenance goes over your head, then think of as this the guide to creating the perfect bar. I grabbed my part-time bartender/some-time flat tyre mender/full-time boyfriend, Josh, and went east for a taste.
Leading the way with The Concept – Josh opted for a Tales of the Coconut (£10.50). A boozy blend of bourbon, cognac, coconut gomme, absinthe and Peychaud’s, it was bittersweet yet balanced, with the sweetness of cognac offset by a few drops of absinthe. Picking from The Team, I sipped on The Crowd Pleaser (£11) which paired vodka with vermouth and rhubarb liqueur before topping with a splash of prosecco.
We were told how one drink, The Explorer (£10.50), was based on a well-travelled member of the bar team… blending tequila, Japanese plum wine, Campari and dry vermouth for a Negroni-esque mix. I needed no explanation to soak up the Nuts & Bolts (£10.50), which combined scotch with vermouth, crème de cacao, chestnut, maple, lemon, ginger ale and chocolate bitters. A truly unique invention.
There’s always room for dessert, even when it comes to cocktails. Extending my mantra to the menu ahead, we ended on a couple of sweeter sips. A tequila-spiked take on the classic espresso martini, Josh chose the silky Callooh Café (£10) which arrived in a bulbous glass, to be poured into a separate salt-rimmed coupe. A nod to the Lewis Carroll poem from which the bar takes its name, my Jabberwocky Milk (£11) required less prep. A twist on the classic fizz, this frothy mixture of gin, lemon, marshmallow syrup, soda, egg white and cream provided a beautifully light finish.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Shaking up some of the most inventive cocktails in London, Callooh Callay serves creativity and quality in equal measure. With modern takes on classic drinks and original creations that you won’t find elsewhere, tasting your way through the Cocktail Bar Manual is a no-brainer.