Nightjar in Soho: “A retro, clandestine style”
Behind, or rather below, an unassuming door in Carnaby’s Kingly Court, there’s a special speakeasy. Nightjar, which already made its name in Old Street, has recently opened a sister bar in the buzzing heart of Soho. The guarded entrance doesn’t reveal too much, keeping the surprise for patrons descending the staircase that leads to an alcove of live music and exquisite drinks.
Following a prohibition-era theme, both for the atmosphere and for the cocktail menu, Nightjar’s offering is intriguing. A small stage, with a backdrop of glittering golden curtains, is set opposite to the counter where the bartenders are continuously in action. There is live piano music every night and, from 9pm, there are also the main acts (for which guests are requested to pay a cover charge that goes directly to the artists performing), comprising jazz, swing, blues and funk.
The drinks list is divided into four main sections, encompassing historic periods of alcohol consumption and featuring both classics and interpretations from the past centuries. The actual menu is an elegant booklet with a few illustrated pages that hint that the presentation of the cocktails will be visually appealing.
The pre-Prohibition era tipples play with floral and fruity notes. Premier, delicately bubbly with Moët & Chandon Brut champagne, refreshingly mixes Pennyroyal mint tincture, Quaglia Camomilla liqueur, lemongrass and cardamom cordial. The section dedicated to Prohibition is captioned as “not for the faint of heart”: from the Toronto (with Woodford Reserve bourbon and Fernet Branca, curiously flavoured with orange blossom smoked candyfloss), to The Filmograph or The Honeymoon, they are indeed strong and tantalising combinations. We opt for the Soul Kiss: a ring-shaped ceramic bottle arrives, decorated with beautiful flowers in red shades, and carrying a thick, punchy, slightly bitter elixir of Bulleit bourbon, Flor de Caña 7 rum, vermouth and a pleasant touch of coffee and roasted pecan maple syrup. It’s really one to remember.
More spiced and juicy are the drinks in the Post-War category. Our Tequila-based pick, Lupita, is a velvety and zesty concoction, featuring prickly pear sorbet and cordial. The Nightjar signature chapter is dedicated to original recipes from the team, and it’s clear from reading the options that there is a lot of fun and creativity going on in the laboratory. The cup containing Name of the Samurai is positioned over a flame that is extinguished by the weight of the glass. The trick enables a thin layer of smoke all around, without excessively impressing the liquid within, which smoothly combines Suntory Toki whisky, Akashi Tai sake, plum and Galangal liqueur.
For a sharing experience, four classics are here reinterpreted and bottled for the table, such as the Cantarito (a margarita with character, with Amores Verde Momento mezcal and passionberry tincture). A short selection of small plates is available to accompany the evening with a few nibbles.
The dusky room sets the tone for the retro, clandestine style. Where Instagrammers might be disappointed in such low light, unable to do justice to the the ornamental display – often completed with edible little extras – it is actually the perfect way to remind visitors how to switch off and enjoy the night as it used to be, simply in the company of good music and good cocktails.
Photos: Virginie Viche
To book a table at Nightjar, Kingly Court 49-51 Carnaby Street London W1F 9PY, call or visit their website here.