Sunday, 17 January 2010

January Cocktails: Lounge Bohemia

Nothing sticks two fingers up to January's faddy exercise plans and hollow attempts at self-improvement quite like cocktails, and nowhere does cocktails quite like Lounge Bohemia.  In fact nowhere else does anything quite like them.  It's a pretty difficult place to just stumble upon, the entrance being an anonymous doorway on the unloved bottom stretch of Great Eastern Street, full of people hurrying through on their way to somewhere else.  Their website is much the same, just an address and a phone number on it - no spiel trying to tempt you to visit, no menu, no gushing quotes and comments from customers, no map, no opening times, no nothing.  All of which is very much in keeping with the whole attitude of a place that's discreetly doing exactly what they want, how they want - there's no standing at the bar here, if you've not booked seats they'll probably tell you to bugger off, if you're wearing a suit they'll definitely tell you to bugger off whether you've booked of not.  You can sometimes get the impression they're doing you a huge favour just letting you in the place and talking to you.  It's not to everyone's liking and there's plenty of comments on the various review web sites from disgruntled punters but that's why God put the Drunken Monkey just round the corner.

The name refers to the actual place Bohemia, something you quickly guess once you're through the door as you pass through a corridor decorated with Czech newspapers, a small staircase at the end descends down into the bar proper.  I'd have described the decor as "my Nan running wild at a jumble sale" but after I'd been here a couple of times I brought a friend who knows a lot more than me about design and cool things in general, and he had a field day pointing out the various design classics that the place is apparently furnished with.  There are copies of Wallpaper* in the magazine racks.  The menus (mainly drinks but some food too) are hidden inside hardback Czech novels (I'm assuming they're novels, they could be lawnmower repair manuals for all I know) where there's a terse list of their cocktails and spirits.  The spirits list is pretty extensive but going for quality in depth rather than quantity: there's quite a small range of brands with each one available in several different types ranging from what you could find quite easily on the high street through to the ultra-rare, old and expensive bottles.  Nestling in the corner on one page is their small selection of molecular gastronomy cocktails.  I started with a classic dry gin martini ("olives, twist or cucumber?") which was as good as it can ever get, made with Tanqueray and stirred not shaken by Paul behind the bar.  An Aviation was jealously guarded by its owner during its short life span, an attempt to try it deflected with "nah, it's not your kind of thing".

Molecular gastronomy makes more sense in the world of cocktails than food, I think.  Forever associated with the foams, jellies, odd-flavoured ice-creams and bicycle pump exploded tomatoes of chefs and scientists such as Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adria and Herve This, the techniques and principles seem much more likely to be successful in a cocktail glass as something you'd actually want to drink, than served up for dinner as something you'd actually want to eat.  They're certainly having a go here: the Old Castro turned up with a glass containing vanilla candy floss spun round a cinnamon stick (they have a proper candy floss machine on the bar, presumably just for this drink) and next to it a Cuban cigar tube containing barrel proof rum infused with different bitters and the lingering aroma of the cigar itself, the candy floss melts into the rum as it's poured over it.  The Bubble Bath Martini is lychee liquer with lavender and poppy seed vodka.  It comes with lychee, lavender and rose bubbles foaming up over the rim of the glass.  It's served with a little rubber duck in it.

I swear I've never drunk bubble bath before but that's really what the martini made me think of when I tasted it.  I know that doesn't make it sound very pleasant but it was really very good, it's more that it made me think of bubble bath with each sip rather than actually tasting like it but it was a lot of fun too.  A little sweet for me to want more than one but that's what you get for ordering something with lychee liquer in it.  The rum drink was really delicious, the theatre of the presentation matched by the strong smoky rum left behind, I could have drunk several of these quite happily.

The food is worth a quick mention too, they serve a small range of bite-size snacks which are all tiny and complicated - this isn't a bowl of nuts and pretzels joint - but delicious, they'll often give you a few freebies when you sit down, but not always.  Besides the three molecular gastronomy cocktails on the menu there's also a 5-course molecular gastronomy cocktail tasting menu available which you need to order in advance - it reads like Heston rewrote Alice in Wonderland pumped full of hallucinogenics and I'm looking forward to an excuse to try it sometime soon.  Paul is a mixologist much in demand from the sound of it so if he's busy elsewhere then the tasting menu isn't on.  There's a lot to love about this place, not least that it's a proper quirky one-off, they won't be rolling the "Lounge Bohemia concept" out anywhere soon, it's a place with character and personality that can leave you wandering back up the stairs and past the old Czech newspapers with a huge smile on your face if you let it.  Assuming you're not stamping back up in a huff on your way to the Drunken Monkey.

Phone number for reservations on their website.  That wasn't a joke about the no-suit dress code.


  1. I've wanted to visit Lounge Bohemia for ages now, and just haven't got around to it....reading your post has made me realise I MUST visit, and soon. It looks bloody excellent.

  2. Wonderful post! Definately going to check it out. Lovely to meet you at The Loft, why didn't you tell me you were Jones the blogger?

  3. heh yes, sorry about that, I'm quite shy

  4. What delicious cocktails they got there.I've always been interested about the history of cocktails, I mean how they were born, how did it happened? somebody put a poster at the entrance of my house in which there were pictures of cocktails and beside that poster there was another poster of Generic Viagra