Speakeasies are all the rage. Prohibition style bars with plush decor, tarnished fittings and a decadent atmosphere are taking over London, adding a little character amidst some of the more sterile bars of late. Mark's Bar at Hix and The Experimental Cocktail Club are two of my favourites, but last week I was introduced to another - Purl.
Its self-confessed aim is to 'bring classic cocktails back to the forefront of London's drinking scene, whilst adding new flare and creativity to forgotten libations'. Taking its name from an old drink of warm ale, gin and wormwood (rather than a knitting term), Purl is nestled between Baker Street and Marylebone High Street, and was the forerunner of Shoreditch's Worship Street Whistling Shop. It's like stepping back in time as you enter the bar (reservations practically strictly necessary) with the barmen all in bowties and braces, the lights set to low, and one of the most interesting-sounding menus I've ever seen.
I started with a Mr Hyde's Fixer Upper - a combination of Ron Zacapa, Pedro Ximeno sherry, a cola reduction and bitters - which comes smoked and sealed in a test tube. A glass beaker with nitrous oxide billows camomile and lapsang fog (not drinkable!) and makes for a real showstopper of an entrance. It was very strong and very smokey; perhaps not one for the faint hearted. My second was a Smokey & The Blinder - their take on a margarita with a vanilla salt and pepper rim, and a small piece of salmon smoked in a salted seaweed and charcoal mason jar. The tastes worked well together and certainly made an impression; your average mojito type place this is not.
The atmosphere was buzzy, with people coming and going. Our waiter was very attentive, carefully explaining each element of our drinks as they arrived, but without being too intrusive. With jazz quietly tinkling away in the background and the candle-lit ambience, I did feel as if I'd been whisked back to the 1920s. Purl's a great place for wowing, but I can't help but feel that I'd have liked a little more depth to the drinks in place of some of the show... and so, this time, it gets a three out of five...
Photo by Andy Lyons