Please note, Upstairs at The Ten Bells is no longer a separate entity to The Ten Bells pub downstairs. The review below relates to its time as a distinct cocktail bar. Time Out Food & Drink editors, Dec 2015.
The Ten Bells is best known as a classic East End boozer, a knees-up kind of place and a part of the Spitalfields set of grounded pubs with a bit of character. Not to mention history: book yourself on a Ripper tour if you need validation of the pub’s gory past.
We doubt the after-work hordes lining the pavement for a fag, or the Saturday night stag-do crowd (about as gory as it gets these days), have cottoned on to the new purpose of the first-floor bar. It’s now showcasing some seriously cool cocktails.
The interior still focuses on historic charm. Paintings on the wall and a neon light behind the bar are the only modern signals in an otherwise chintzy room with armchairs and warped wooden floorboards.
But the ‘shorty’ cocktail list couldn’t be more of the minute. This half-pour cocktail trend (fresh from bars in the Big Apple) allows punters to sample different drinks without getting too sozzled or killing their contactless cards. It’s kind of the antithesis of Shoreditch, and damn, is it refreshing.
Cocktails start at £6 – close to the price of a pint in this stretch of town – and only reach as far as £8. And they’re really good, championing intense and interesting flavours. A bee pollen gin drink with honey, lemon and Cocchi Americano was zingy, floral and bitter-yet-balanced. Rum, ginger, palm sugar, mandarin bitters and pandan (a tropical palm plant) had the appearance of a health-ridden green smoothie but tasted of nutty sweetness and warm spice – unlike anything else we’ve tasted of late. There are even drinks verging on nightcap territory. We couldn’t get enough of an inventive tequila and cold-brew coffee holding one ice cube of amaro and another of horchata – the spiked drink took on a new dreamy quality with each melted sip.
You can forget about naff cocktail names too (no Ripper puns here!) as all the drinks are listed simply by ingredients. It’s practically a cocktail revolution happening here, and one that we can totally get behind.