I’m pretty fortunate to live in London at the moment, a city positively dripping with cocktail bars. Nine of the world’s 50 best bars are here in the city, and there’s an abundance of classic and new-style cocktail bars to choose from besides. Recently I’ve been making a concerted effort to get round as many as possible, as I might move away from London later in the year.
Cahoots is a relatively new bar, which opened in early 2015 with a 1940s disused tube station theme. The idea is ‘the Blitz may be going on outside but we’re having an underground party down here,’ which is slightly questionable in theory but really fun once you get down there. It’s from the team who run Bunga Bunga, a (highly) tongue-in-cheek Italian restaurant and bar in Battersea, Maggie’s, the 1980s themed club in Chelsea, and the Mr Fogg’s Victoriana themed cocktail bars. If there’s a thread running through all of this, it’s dedication to a theme. These are high-concept venues, and that was definitely the case with Cahoots.
You find Cahoots with an Underground-style ‘To the Trains’ sign – it’s not the easiest place to find. Once you’re in the door, a steep staircase leads down to the bar itself, but first you have to be announced by the doorman, a chirpy, plummy fellow in a train conductor outfit, who ‘what-ho’s’ at you and ostentatiously dials down to the bar on a vintage phone. I must be honest, I found this… too much. I can see how this would be fun in a certain mood, but I was feeling at the time that I wanted a bar, not a role-playing experience, and primarily I wanted to enter the bar and have a drink, which this guy was not going to let me do until he’d got through on the phone – it took some time.
Once I had burrowed into the inner sanctum, things looked up. It’s a cosy venue, liberally scattered with tube maps and vintage signs, waitresses in ditsy-print dresses and furniture that aims to look like it came from your grandma’s house. The music was remixed swing, and the menu was extensive. The concept did mean that the menu was printed in a newspaper style – a bit hard to read but I suppose everyone feels more vintage with a newspaper in hand? The theme also extended, oddly, to the toilets, where lessons in Cockney rhyming slang were piped through the speakers. Surreal, but you can’t fault their devotion.
I started off with a Regal Boulevardier, made with Chivas Regal, Campari, Punt e Mes, rose liqueur, grenadine, Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters. It was a heady, sophisticated drink with an intense chocolatey taste, presented rather beautifully in an oversized coupe. The only downside was the giant iceberg it came with – large ice cubes in coupe glasses just tend to end up in your face, making for a slightly undignified experience. One friend started with the Circle and District Wine, a surprisingly refreshing drink made with Johnnie Walker Black Label, Hennessy cognac, mulled wine syrup, raspberries, pineapple juice and lime. It sailed up in spectacular fashion in a huge wine glass festooned with biscuits and cream.
One section of the newspaper featured slightly lighter cocktails named after 1940s actresses, while another announced ‘foraged’ cocktails straight from the Land Army – my friend had a ‘Boiled Beef and Carrots’ which I only dimly remember but it tasted considerably better than it sounded. It was a work night, so we only stayed for two drinks, and I finished with a Russian Around the Underground, essentially a Last Word but with vodka instead of gin – not 100% sure what that substitution accomplishes, but it was a lovely drink nonetheless.
The drinks were not overly expensive for London – most of ours were around £10. There’s a short snack menu (on a ‘Ration Card’) and free popcorn on the table, which we thought was a nice touch. The atmosphere was really fun and laid-back (once you get down there). I think they succeeded in getting the feel of a secret party going on underground, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. The waitresses were really friendly and happy to explain drinks and help out – it didn’t feel particularly pretentious despite some pretty crazy cocktails and ingredients. All in all, a recommended night out, but be prepared to embrace the theme!