Ever drunk in Golden Gai in east Shinjuku, Tokyo? It's three dingy streets crammed with over 200 tiny bars, each with a novelty of their own. Black Rock, tucked away in the maze-like streets behind Liverpool Street station, has a whiff of that. Tristan Stephenson and Tom Aske, the guys behind nearby Worship Street Whistling Shop, have created a dimly lit underground whisky lounge big enough for 40 but small enough to have a drinks trolley bar.
On one side of the room, three cabinets filled with over 250 bottles offer six descriptions: smoke, fruit, spice etc. Each brand is placed by a ‘relative’ – find your ‘favourite’ and try its cousin. Dots give you the price – one, two or three dots; £7, £9 or £11 a slug. Two barmen pace the joint (well, there’s no bar to stand behind) and willingly chat whisky.
But we’re neglecting the ‘novelty’ – in the middle of the room stands half the trunk of a magnificent 185-year-old oak tree, glass-topped for punters to sit at, with two booze-filled rivers hewn in to the wood and slopping beneath the surface. On one side there’s ‘Cherry River’ – bourbon and morello with spices – and on the other ‘Table Whisky’, to which the establishment adds a different label each week, creating an ever-evolving house blend. Both are thoroughly drinkable and at £6 a 35ml shot, the cheapest option in a bar where whisky fans can blow a hole in their bank accounts.