69 Colebrooke Row Islington
69 Colebrooke Row, London N1 8AA
Sunday to Wednesday 5pm – 12 midnight
Thursday 5pm – 1am
Friday & Saturday 5pm – 2am
69 Colebrooke Row
69 Colebrooke Row, also known in a rather enigmatic gesture as The Bar with No Name, sits in an Islington backstreet in that liminal zone where the bobo outposts of Camden Passage and Islington Green merge with the more urban terrain of Essex Rd. The bar is the creation of Tony Conigliaro, the dark prince of London mixology. Looking like a refugee from an El Greco painting, Conigliaro cut his teeth bartending at joints like Isola and Shochu Lounge. He has developed radical new approaches to the art of mixology influenced as much by processes in contemporary molecular gastronomy and perfumery as by his background in art and fashion.
The bar has the feel of 1950s Milan with the welcome addition of a speakeasy piano in the corner. The space it occupies is small, verging on the cramped, and the upstairs is devoted to a lab where Conigliaro and his assistant develop new blends. The drinks menu takes you on a tour of imagined locations-Avignon, St James’ Gate, Terroir, Death in Venice and Orange Grove Fizz-and invites you to sit back and enjoy the ride at the very reasonable price of £9 per drink.
So how did the drinks stack up?
The ‘Terroir’ @ 69 Colebrooke Row
The ‘Terroir’ is described as ‘Distilled clay, flint and lichen served straight from the bottle.’ It is the taste of the land that gives each wine its individual character but without the grapes getting in the way!
Served from a wine bottle with a spoof Spanish label, it drinks like a Martini and is built on a Vodka base with the addition of three secret elements. The taste characteristics reminded me of a Pouilly-Fume, the dry white wine from the Loire, the grapes for which are grown on a clay and flint soil. Sugar is clearly present in a way that is almost non-sweet and there are vegetal and soil flavours coming through too. It’s a serious drink that plays with our perceptions and asks questions about how we receive flavour.
The ‘ Vampiro’ @ 69 Colebrooke Row
The ‘ Vampiro’ is a Tequila and Mezcal Bloody Mary, but this is a much subtler version than the blood-spattered smoked chilli crazed zombie version that I had recently at a Mexican restaurant-fun as it was in a Tarantinoesque way. It is more measured and insuates its way into your system like a certain Transylvanian count on a first date with a virgin.
The ‘Avignon’ @ 69 Colebrooke Row
The ‘Avignon’ takes us back to the Middle Ages when the papacy shifted to France. It tastes of Frankincense and musty church pews and is a blend of Merlet Cognac, chamomile syrup and smoked frankincense.
The ‘Death in Venice’ @ 69 Colebrooke Row
The ‘Death in Venice’ is a Campari Spritz (Campari and Prosecco) with added Grapefruit bitters. The citrus taste of the bitters lingers long after the other flavours have died away-imagine Dirk Bogarde as composer von Aschenbach on the beach at the Venice Lido in Visconti’s elegiac movie, his makeup running in the sun as he sits, slowly dying and longing for the unobtainable boy…
Conigliaro is in some ways a Ferran Adria type figure in the world of cocktails, unafraid to innovate and investigate, preparing drinks that are not in any way gimmicky but that are multi-layered and intriguing. He is spreading his wings, collaborating with chef Bruno Loubet in Clerkenwell at The Cocktail Lounge at The Zetter Townhouse hotel and at Loubet’s new King’s Cross hit Grain Store (see our review), but as with Adria you get the sense that he is changing our perception of what a cocktail can be. If you are interested in contemporary drinks culture you should check out 69 Colebrooke Row.