We are fortunate that our capital city is not simply some purpose built shell for the bureaucratic machinations of the tribe of paperwork. Americans must travel to Boston for their education, Washington for their ruling and then trudge back up North for a drink in New York. Biblical. For myself, readers, fortunate enough to be holding onto the coattails of this great city, I can do all three on the same street in the space of half an hour. Now as you may have noticed this blog is chiefly interested in whisky, and so I make no apologies if I have neglected to include your favourite watering hole in my list of: The Four Best Places to Drink Whisky in London.
Arguably one of the best places in London to drink anything, if you have never experienced the exquisite art deco decor of the Rivoli Bar then you have not felt the slightly jarring moment of panic that besets the first timer. Have I, quite genuinely, been transported back ninety years? Someone behind you is being told that, sadly, they will not be able to wear trainers inside. Panic over, and time for a drink. It is not the sort of place that lends itself to long bouts of drinking, unless of course an arrangement can be made with your bank for a small loan. It is the perfect place to take your partner about five minutes after they have said yes to the obvious question (if you do it inside people will be liable to assume you are just hoping for a complimentary bottle of fizz).
Instead, take this experience with a cool sense of moderation. If you are in the mood for a cocktail try one of their Churchill’s Courage, a nice mix of English and American flavours with a strong bourbon base. If, unlike me, you aren’t just looking for the cheapest items on the menu you can splash out on their magnificent Rusty Nail, a steal for less than one hundred pounds sterling. If you are hoping to sample something really special I advise you push past the cocktails and onto the whisky menu. The amateur will, no doubt, be unsure of themselves when presented with this almost cryptic treatise of the good stuff. The connoisseur may find himself slightly overwhelmed by the variety. The man in the middle will pretend he had known all along that the Welsh made whisky. The amateur will be relieved to find, then, that the omniscient bar staff will be delighted to assist; there is a reason The Ritz is a watchword for impeccable service.
P.S. If anyone ever tries the Suntory Hibiki 30 Years Old please do get in touch, I want to know everything.
We have seen tables made from wood. We have also, I believe I am safe in saying, reader, seen artificial channels for the collection of liquid. I myself have noticed several just this morning. A drain pipe dropping down from the front of a terraced house, the embankment on the river Thames is also a good example. What I have seen only once, and hope to see again, is the centrepiece table at Black Rock. Eighteen feet long, over one hundred and eighty five years old, an English oak, fashioned into a table and into it set what can only be described as two whisky rivers. Rivers of whisky.
As with everywhere in Shoreditch they had to have a gimmick; in fact at the Black Rock there are several, such as not having a bar. Even a cynic like myself can forgive this, however, when speaking to the genuinely lovely staff they employ, who know everything about whisky and are enthusiastic about making sure you leave a little wiser, and probably just a little bit drunker. Try their tasting and blending experiences, with more than three hundred whiskies to choose from, if you want a more civilised and useful experience.
Private members clubs are no longer the stuffy, classist institutions they once were. By this point in the long march of history we are seeing an explosion of clubs for all sorts of different groups. Soho House for the artistically inclined (or often the artistically incapable if their interior design is anything to go by), the Oxford and Cambridge for people who completely lack any personality. I have it on good authority that there is, hidden in Dulwich, a private members club for coffee aficionados. They hold monthly meetings at their club house on Belair Park and have the reported membership of at least two Members of Parliament, a Honduran spice merchant and over thirty internationally recognised baristas.
It was therefore no great surprise to me when I learnt of the Soho Whisky Club. I am clearly not running in the correct circles as membership is still just out of reach to me, and I have to content myself with going into the shop downstairs and perusing. For this reason all the information that I am about to supply has been gained by espionage, and I feel obliged to inform the reader that this came with great risk to my person.
A genuine oasis in a busy part of town, it has its own roof terrace allowing you to sample their excellent cigar collection and plenty of comfy little nooks inside for you to settle into and enjoy the great prices that membership reportedly brings. Knowledgeable staff, a common theme when it comes to good places to drink whisky in London, is supposedly one of the great attractions. When your friends are bored by your constant diatribe on the heresy of using both malted and unmalted barley, you can retreat here safe in the knowledge that the chap behind the bar is not only excited to listen to you, but is also in complete agreement.
I apologise for the extra words, and if you are already sitting at home, reading this with a whisky in hand, then I will not ask you to continue (although I might recommend you reconsider what you do with your evenings).
Whisky is many things. My father referred to the drink as ‘hooligan juice’, and it often can be in the wrong company. I have personally found on my rather slow journey into whisky that it is chiefly a contemplative drink when taken neat; enjoyed slowly, and appreciated fully without the distractions one might find for oneself when drinking buckfast on a quiet saturday afternoon. In Britain there has always been great stock placed in ‘hearth and home’, and if anyone did not particularly care about their living quarters before all this silliness started it is certain they will have changed their minds by now.
Ironically this post script is arguably the most important location to enjoy whisky, and likely where the beginner will find the harsh and seemingly unremitting burn slowly ease into a desire to savour and relish every sip and smell provided by a good bottle.
By William Prior