Bloody brilliant blends and burlesque in a basement.
If you needed proof that London’s cabaret scene is alive and (positively) kicking, take a trip to Hester’s Hideout under Paesan restaurant at the bottom of Exmouth Market. The entrance is now via the restaurant and not through the ‘trader’s entrance’, a pale green door to the side. As you descend a small staircase, a ’30s jazz tune fills the air to get the atmosphere going. There are three huge booths and various seating options; I was assured they can squeeze 100 punters in the place, but I’d say that would be an act worthy of the weird and wonderful burlesque artists and contortionists they host for raucous Friday and Saturday night shows.
The real stars of this particular hideout are the pre-made cocktails – ‘concoctions’ and ‘potions’, according to the menu – that the bar manager produces. He’s researched long-lost recipes and then refined them. Bread and Salt included a thick, butter-washed gin and gave me the feeling I’d been dipping rosemary bread into fine olive oil. The Milk of the Poppy had the consistency of milk of magnesia and a powerful whisky kick that led to a sweet walnut after-taste. And Hester’s Cream Soda carried a vanilla flavour that lingered, unlike the imperceptible gin also in the mix. It was master mixology and we savoured every drop.
Classics are also available on request; a negroni was as good as they come, but the sazerac was a touch over-diluted for my taste. Their quirky cocktail creations are the way to go, and should match those off-the-wall antics on stage if you’ve got yourself a Friday or Saturday night ticket. But let’s face it, the drinks alone are worth stopping by for.
musicians and performance artists entertain until the wee small hours.
If the walls could talk, they’d whisper tales from the early 1900s, when the guv’nor of the then-named Clerkenwell Tavern let his basement for market traders to store their wares. It soon became a hangout for market workers who liked a wager or shady deal, concealed from the prying eyes of drinkers upstairs or local bobbies on the beat.
With the market traders long since moved on, the cosy basement has been given a new lease of life, as an immersive cabaret and cocktail destination, where mixologists prepare tipples using vintage recipes left by the traders, alongside modern, molecular drinks that arrive smoking and bubbling to the table.
The performers, too, have taken over from where the traders left off, moving among fellow drinkers and ensuring the lights are low, and the spirits are high.
Indulge in the fine cocktails, shenanigans and modern decadence. Friday and Saturday shows will pop up from 21:00 to 23:00 - You will need a golden ticket to get in, don’t forget to book in advance.
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