As innovative London ‘gin palace’ The Worship Street Whistling Shop announces it is closing after almost 8 years at the top of the London bar scene, I remember my first visit, with apologies to The New Yorker’s ‘Bar Tab‘ column.
On a Wednesday night, two tall men emerge from a side street in Shoreditch. Looking both ways, they cross Worship Street, heading for an imposing oak panelled door marked by two carriage lanterns. As they descend the stairs into the dark, low-ceilinged basement, a thick smog of dry ice and smoke dances in the air above the heads of a reserved crowd. They are led to a table by a street urchin in braces and pick their way to their seats in the dimmest of lights. Over the sound of a scratchy gramophone, they consider the menu or try to, as even the light of the replica Victorian streetlight above their heads casts no more than a murky glow. Laughing about it they withdraw their smartphones to use the torch, somewhat shattering the period aesthetic and glance around the room. The waiter returns with water and takes a drinks order. No longer constrained by the paucity of light the gentlemen recline and begin to discuss the relative merits of life as a Victorian gent, and daydream audibly about having a link-boy to help them home. As a couple of nearby candles gutter, the waiter returns with the Panacea (whisky, honey, lavender, lemon juice and sage dust) and a Liver Reviver (gin, ginseng, beetroot wine and dandelion) and conversation turns to the laboratory lurking in plain sight in a corner of the larger of the two bars – presumably the source of the chlorogenic stabilizer and a number of the tinctures listed on the menu. It isn’t long before a second round is called for, this time the Throat Oil (tequila, Dubonnet, Port, coffee, vanilla salt and milk porter) joins the Panacea. Meanwhile, the pianist strikes up and the now veritably vaudeville gents consider beckoning the urchin back for another round of Liver Revivers. (63 Worship St. 020 7247 0015.)