The Search for London's Best Drinks: The Zetter Townhouse, St. John's Square, London
Walking over the cobbles of St. John’s Square, the pale blue door of The Zetter Bar & Townhouse peeks through a wrought iron gate. If it weren’t for the italicised writing on the door, you wouldn’t even know what you were looking at, as the Georgian exterior blends perfectly into the surrounding area. Upon opening the door, things get more and more impressive with every step you take.
The interior – specially designed by Russell Sage – oozes luxury and decadence. This is exaggerated to great effect by the mismatched bespoke armchairs, the roaring open fire and the quirky alcohol paraphernalia that is scattered around the bar. Match this with a warm atmosphere and a highly attentive staff (who will, without fail, provide every guest with a glass of chilled water on arrival) and you find yourself asking: “How could this place get any better?”. We spoke to head bartender Steve Pennack to find out more.
“For our cocktail menu”, he told me, “we look towards traditional English ingredients and we try to make and create our own stuff as much as possible”. As it turns out, The Zetter shares a laboratory with 69 Colebrook Row (owned by Tony Conigliaro who also wrote the drinks list for The Zetter).Take note that Heston Blumenthal recently said that “[Conigliaro] is a revolutionary at the forefront of a new energy in cocktail making”.
A great example of the bar’s inventiveness is ‘The Master at Arms’ cocktail, which blends Myers Rum with lab-made port evaporation and homemade grenadine. “What we do here”, Pennack told me, “is that we evaporate the alcohol from the port so that the drinker can enjoy the unique flavours with the cocktail being overpowered by too much alcohol”.
The best thing about the Zetter’s drinks list is that every cocktail on the menu has its own story and, even better, your bartender seems completely content telling you that story as he mixes and blends your drink in front of you. Pennack elaborated: “The Master at Arms is like the captain of a vessel. You could get whatever rum you wanted if you asked your average sailor but if you wanted the special stuff, you sought out the Master at Arms”. The cocktail itself is an embodiment of the finer things in life.
Next on the list of must-try-drinks was The Zetter’s twist on a Collins: The ‘Milk Collins’. Made from an infusion of Beefeater gin, homemade sweet milk syrup, lemon juice, sugar and soda, this delectable concoction is easy on the palate and goes down smoothly. It’s served long over cubes of ice. Great for all…unless you’re lactose intolerant.
Another interesting fact about The Zetter Townhouse, every cocktail’s story involves an illustrious, well-travelled lady called Wilhelmina who is said to have frequented The Zetter many years ago. It was Wilhelmina who sought out the Master at Arms for her favourite tipples and it was Wilhelmina whose love for all things Parisian and Absinthe who inspired the creation of ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’, literally translated from the French as ‘The Flowers of Evil’. Naturally, this was a drink I couldn’t leave without trying.
Made from homemade Rose-infused vodka, lemon juice, egg whites and a hint of La Maison Fontaine Absinthe and presented in a typical absinthe goblet, ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ is both delicate and intense. Every sip comes with a unique balance of floral notes and a zing of high quality absinthe. Most importantly, each sip leaves you wanting another.
It’s not only the flavours that make the cocktails at The Zetter stand out, it’s the attention to detail. From the unique, specially designed Zetter Townhouse doilies to the extensive range of drink-specific glassware, there’s really no competition for this bar. It’s truly a cut above the rest!
Last but not least, I sampled ‘The Flintlock’. This one, Pennack explained, is “a homage to the firing mechanism in handguns of Georgian times”. The drink itself contains Beefeater 24 gin, gunpowder tea tincture, sugar, dandelion & burdock bitters and Fernet Branca Liqueur Bitters.
The Flintlock is a simple drink that focusses on those all familiar English flavours and for Tony Conigliaro, it didn’t need a garnish. Instead, Pennack told me, the Zetter buys in magic wool from “a little magic shop down the road…It’s something special that clients never really expect. Something to shock them, just as the jolt of the firing mechanism would have shocked the user of the gun”. Sure enough, I was shocked. Definitely wasn’t ready with the camera for this one! Combine an inch-wide piece of magic wool with a naked flame and you’ll be greeted by an explosive flame of up to ten times the size of the wool. As I said: a very unexpected ending.
To add further still to The Zetter’s long list of credits, it’s also relatively cheap considering the area that surrounds it. House cocktails – including those reviewed here – cost only £9.50 and, if there’s a cocktail that used to be on the list and the ingredients are still in stock, your bartender will honour the old £9.50 price tag. All other cocktails start at £10.50 for the classics such as the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan and the bar “try not to go above the £16 mark so as not to alienate any potential clients”.
If that wasn’t enough, The Zetter Bar & Townhouse is also pretty special for food. Award-winning chef Bruno Loubet has worked alongside Tony Conigliaro to create a tapas/sharing style menu that perfectly compliments the drinks list. Nibbles go from £2.50 to £4.50 and a sharing platter will only set you back around £10.
It’s safe to say that The Zetter Bar and Townhouse will keep impressing people for years to come. And it is most definitely worth a visit.
The Zetter Townhouse
49-50, St. John’s Square, London, EC1V 4JJ
020 7324 4550
Note: this article was written on 19th August 2014 and can also be viewed at http://www.thearcadiaonline.com/the-search-for-londons-best-drinks-the-zetter-townhouse-st-johns-square-london/