Every so often, from Berlin to New York, a bar will suddenly arrive without fanfare or expectation and completely change the landscape of drinking that the city has to offer. From the gloriously speakeasy themed PDT (Please Don't Tell) in the aforementioned NY, to London's Purl and sister bar The Whistling Shop, both subterranean Dickensian palaces of science and flavour, the art of the bartender has perhaps never had a safer pair of hands over the last 3 years.
Recently, Caskstrength has been tasked with undertaking some bartender training on the mixability and vitality of the blended Scotch whisky category and speaking to the groups of bartenders from across the globe what's clear in particular is that right now, London appears to have the edge when it comes to the variety of great bars offering exemplary service and a wide variety of innovative drinks. Last week we had the pleasure to visit arguably one of London's most exciting new bars, NOLA (named after the abbreviation of New Orleans, Louisiana) run by the wonderful Dan Priseman, a man who has never looked more at home serving simple classics given a subtle sprinkling of the Deep South.
|A wonderful Hurricane-inspired drink from NOLA|
NOLA isn't a huge bar - probably with a capacity for 30 guests or so, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in panache and for those in search of a perfect Ramos Gin Fizz (which comes with the proviso that the bartender must be on the verge of passing out before the drink is properly shaken) there really isn't anywhere else to consider. They even have a fabulous cigar terrace and a frighteningly well-put-together collection of sticks to enjoy. Hola, NOLA, we salute you!
But for the sheer scale of what makes London one level ahead of the pack in the bar stakes, one only needs to look up to the skies and to The Shard, London Bridge's newest and most captivating landmark- in particular the 31st floor. For those of you who know little of London's latest swathe of tall buildings to divide opinion like no other, The Shard is the daddy of them all, and currently carries the lofty title of Western Europe's tallest building. From the underneath, the scores of tourists eager to travel to its summit seem more than happy to part with the £25 per person it costs to take an elevator to the very top. But amazingly, about 99% of them fail to spot the obvious goldmine of a drinking opportunity. Venture around the corner from all the queues and you'll find another entrance with a single lift containing just one button for the 31st floor. Now given that The Shard has 72 floors, you'd think that being less than half way up was a little like popping to watch the latest blockbuster film and deliberately missing the action packed cliff-hanger of an ending. But after stepping out of the lift and strolling into the Aqua Shard bar, you'll reconsider the meaning of the phrase 'no half measures'. Because here, half way is definitely the right way.
The smile on your partner's face as they see the location they'll be enjoying several cocktails for the next few hours is absolutely priceless, for in our opinion, Aqua Shard outshines any other high rise bar in the world, without question. Don't believe us, then see below...
But of course, location isn't everything. But when you have a view this good, you'd be gloriously happy just drinking tap water. A quick perusal of the menu reveals that Aqua Shard specialises in a small range of classic inspired cocktails, with Harry's Cocktail (featuring Monkey 47 gin, Antica Formula, absinthe and garnished with an olive and fresh mint) - about as perfect a drink as one can imagine when presented with such an impressive vista of London's skyline. Aqua have an entire menu based around gin-based cocktails and also one dedicated to tea-infused creations, with the Persephone's Cup comprising of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Moscato, hibiscus tea syrup, some bergamot and lavender bitters all aged in a small white oak barrel. It's gloriously floral, yet mouth-wateringly rich and just goes to show how manager Manuel Soro has risen (at least 31 floors...!) to the sky high challenge of making Aqua Shard London's most exciting place to drink. Just make sure your guests have a head for heights...