Sometimes all it takes is a room, a single room on a grubby stretch of Old Street, to transport you out of East London and into a cocktail saloon of 1920s revelries. Created by former Nightjar barman, Marian Beke, The Gibson is a small slice of silent movie magic that takes drinkers on a trip through time and space.
The Atmosphere & Venue
Like Marilyn Monroe being shoved into the Big Brother House, The Gibson is an out-of-place, old-school beauty of knock-out proportions on a stretch of Old Street better known for its fried chicken shops and offies. Covered in emerald-green bricks and with Parisian-style seating outside, the cocktail bar has kept a few touches from its former life as a pub. Step through the wardrobe and into a Narnia of Prohibition-themed gorgeousness; a glimmering brass bar fills most of the single room, leaving space for just a few tables to be squeezed in.
The windows are covered and the lighting is low, any memory of outside is forgotten upon entering wonderland. Vintage cocktail shakers off all shapes and sizes stand on window sills and an upright piano has been artfully levered into a corner; look up ‘date-night’ in the dictionary, and you will find a picture of The Gibson. It’s not all canoodling couples and star-crossed lovers, from 9pm, a tousled haired musician begins to hammer out jazz tunes on the piano, singing big hitters in a seductive European accent. The piano filled the tiny room with the swinging sounds of Ella Fitzgerald and Willie Nelson; as our cocktail glasses emptied, our singing voices emerged, prompted by the pianist.
The Food & Drink
Marian Beke has done his time behind the bar at Nightjar, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed with his artful and epic creations at The Gibson. With more than 45 cocktails, often containing ingredients sourced from far-flung corners, our waitress was encyclopedic on her knowledge of drinks, dancing through the pages of the cocktail menu with ease. The drinks list is a fairy-tale wedge of a book which aims to take visitors on a journey through space and time; divided according to the 12 months, the menu rocks from thick and chocolately in December, through to light and fresh come warmer seasons.
Of course, there is the bar’s namesake, The Gibson - a martini-like drink with pickled onions - but that is where the simplicity stops. Drinks are crafted and created, and brought to tables with theatrical whooshes that invoke ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’. The Electric Earl was a luminous pink concoction, served in a light bulb. Mixed with Tanqueray gin, Lady Grey Liqueur, fresh grapefruit, lime and tonic and citrus grass cordial, the drink was a refreshingly sharp jumble, made all the more exceptional by the accompanying flower bud which sent a coursing electricity through our tongues when bitten.
Tea Time with Alice was wacky enough to make the Mad Hatter blush, and came in a cat-shaped glass with a lollipop, chocolate playing card and pot of dry ice. Another favourite was Tiger Balm, brought to us in a hanging glass skull, tequila was blended with June beetle infusion, golden habanero jam and a little cone of fried worms to munch through.
Crammed somewhere in the tiny space is a kitchen that serves up sharing plates which are equally as delicious as the rest of the menu. Serrano ham (£6.50) was cut from the leg and sprinkled in honeycomb, smoked almonds (£4) were endlessly moreish and hearty chunks of octopus tentacles (£5) had been slathered in tomato and garlic.
The Gibson sets out to take you on a voyage, and for three hours on a Wednesday night I was lost in a swinging, sexy room of old jazz, new tastes and intimate atmospheres. Get down quick, something this hot isn’t going to stay secret for long.