Come, let us worship at the altar of the Horatio Street Social, home of the mighty Freestanding Engine Order Telegraph!
Horatio Street Social, Bethnal Green, London
Have you ever thought about how to go about starting your own religion? I have, and apparently so has Jake O’Brien Murphy, co-owner of Hoxton’s latest new bar, the Horatio Street Social Club. This came up, all casual like, as he popped over to ask how our first drinks from the multi-angled menu were and found me and my guest in the middle of a full-on discussion about the restrictions on religious charities in the UK.
Yes, we do have great bar chat actually.
Unfazed by our discussion, Jake, who studied a master’s degree in theology before moving to a different form of dark wood confessional, waded in with his own theories about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Pastafarianism and Spagnostics. This, it turns out is a perfect example of the atmosphere that Jake and partner Simon Thompson, both formerly of Callooh Callay, want to inculcate at the first of their Social Club venues. To them, the bar is an inherently social construct. It should be a place to have interesting, weird and wonderful conversations. A place for the discussion of everything from the minutiae of life to the grand picture of whether it is sufficient to call yourself a religion if you take it upon yourself to worship a freestanding engine order telegraph and choose a form of worship that involves meeting regularly to drink dramatic, understated and often experimental cocktails in its presence.
It is. It totally is.
So sociability is the name of the game – and let’s be honest, the clue was in the title. With that in mind, the pair have selected a small wood panelled room in the basement of Horatio Street pub, Nelson’s Head as their home for the next few months. It is decked out in the style of the great social clubs of the north. A concept which to me, a native south Londoner – feels like it only exists in the gritty northern films of my childhood. Think The Full Monty. Billy Elliot or Kes. It is a decidedly congenial place. There is just enough nautical memorabilia to tip a bicorn hat to the namesake of the venue and to inspire conversation. Something that Jake was keen to point out when another conversation steered him down the route of some of the interesting people he’d met through bartending – including the man who invented Thai sweet chilli crisp flavouring and a Canadian who was the world’s number one lift salesman.
You’ll never be bored here, and not just by the chat. The menu, which is set to change regularly, focuses on the madcap concoctions of the daring duo’s hive mind. I started with the Fan Mail because, like Simon, I’m a sucker for a scotch and soda. This camomile and pear twist on the classic managed to taste more genuinely pear-like than any pear distillate has a right to. My guest opened with the Kill the Cook – largely because he enjoys ordering anything on a menu which contains at least one ingredient he is unfamiliar with (in this case, urfa a Turkish chilli pepper). Inspired by the terroir of Mexico and all that is good in agave spirits, it had a warm earthy feel to it thanks two featuring two different varieties of red pepper and one type of iron tablet.
Round two saw us open up to recommendations from genial host Jake. He explained that the Dirty Faces and Naïve Melody would give us the best examples of the bar’s range, so we trusted his word. The first of these was effectively a grown-up version of apple Tango. Although based on the Savoy Cocktail Book’s Angel Face Cocktail, the Horatio Street version was softened with beeswax and honey washed calvados and apricot. The Naïve Melody the bar’s twist on the bicicletta stable of drinks (think of the original – Campari and white wine – or the radler – a German shandy). This version fuses two well-known twentieth-century flavours – cola and bitter aperitif in a drink that you could still reliably cycle home after.
We broke our normal rule, and were enthused enough to seek out a third round of drinks largely because I could not ignore the allure of the Lips – mischievously described simply as ‘Electrocuted Ribena’. I may have been expecting a carton of the kid’s favourite with a car battery attached, but fortunately, I ended up with an alluring and uniquely dry–tasting blend of blackcurrant and Greek mastiha (a gum-based liqueur made from the resin of the mastic tree). It’s an ingredient that has cropped up on a number of menus in London recently – including at Three Sheets – and while it may be easily confused for bathroom sealant by name, it has a light aniseed flavour and a pleasant dry mouthfeel. The final drink of the night was the Jot & Tittle, an excellent example of the one-note cocktail – it hits you hard with the neon bright malic flavour of green apples and green peas, underlined by the dry spice of the Tanqueray gin. This flavour then just hangs in your mouth. Steady. Unfaltering. Never diminishing.
The dark basement bar was quiet when we visited (a Thursday night, but it was the day after Valentine’s), and we ended up with the undivided attention of the hosts, but given that there’s only room for about fifteen covers, there’s no reason to believe that the level of hospitality and attention to detail will waver once this bar is packed to the gunnels. This, surely, is only a matter of time. But given the bar is only on loan to Londoners, you should get down there quick.
Horatio Street Social Club
Below Nelson’s Head, 32 Horatio Street, London E2 (clubsaresocial.com)
Price: Cocktails £9-10 each