London’s underground ‘speakeasy’ bars are increasingly becoming the city’s worst kept secrets. But at the City’s new Prohibition-inspired bar The Bootlegger, there’s no tell-tale neon sign or oversized doorknocker – it’s hidden between a Nando’s and a dry cleaners. Don’t be perturbed by the lack of signage. Head down the unexpected stairwell and you’ll find a basement bar whose exposed brick walls are adorned with archive photographs, dimly lit by copper pendant lamps and candles.
It’s clear that they haven’t scrimped on authentic details. There’s an old-fashioned till, a hooch distiller, and a gramophone – all in working order, although they’ve only got one record. But all this attention to detail can seem a little try-hard – miscellaneous jazz music? Tick. Staff in bow-ties and braces? Tick. Bar snacks served in enamel dishes that are suspiciously chipped in identical places? Double tick.
While the whole ‘speakeasy’ thing might be a bit overdone, the cocktails are spot-on. The Button Man and his Gat – a fragrant blend of vanilla vodka and amaretto with a zingy twist of lemon, pineapple and basil manages to satisfy a sweet tooth without tasting like liquid sherbet. And for those who like it hot, The Jake Walk – a spicy mix of rum blended with fresh chillies and lime juice – was pleasantly fiery without blowing our heads off.
If you’re in it for the long haul, they’ve got a few bar snacks: meat platters, olives and cheese boards. They’re tasty enough, but much like the bar’s hidden entrance, nothing stands out. With little to distinguish this place from the rest of London’s ‘secret’ underground bars, we fear that people won’t be booting down the door to get in. But we hope we’re wrong.