Obviously the most overt sign that you’re in a London speakeasy is that you found out about it and went to it, because you’re cool or because you know cool people, or because your inner compass somehow locates hip unusual places without you realising. But once you’re inside, if you’re in any doubt that you’re literally drinking on the edge of the edgiest edge, here are a few things to tick off…
The staff look like they’re in fancy dress
Over the last few years the trademark look of the professional barman has veered dramatically from Tom Cruise in ‘Cocktail’ to Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘There Will Be Blood’, or, in extremely cool bars, Christian Bale in ‘The Machinist’. It’s quite a stark shift. Other influential bartending style icons can be found in Charles Dickens novels, French folklore, wartime, or ‘The Addams Family’. If they’re a guy, expect braces and a beard the size of a garden hedge, if they’re a girl, look out for a pudding bowl haircut and sooty eyes, or some kind of knotted headscarf and the reddest lipstick you have ever seen.
There are just numbers next to cocktails
Here’s a fact: pound signs are for squares, losers, and geeks. A cool cocktail bar has no time for this kind of colonial bullshit, actually putting the items on the menu into the local currency. No, your cocktail is just ‘8’. Eight what? Pounds, probably, but you could try bucks if you really wanted to. Or Prussian Francs, which aren’t a real thing.
No-one wants to talk to you (apart from, hopefully, who you’re there with)
In your local Wetherspoons it’s probably considered quite normal to smile at people, or to eye-snog a stranger, but these hipper ‘spaces’ are where people go to be seen but not looked at, so bloody hell, don’t look at them. At least not overtly. Perhaps through a mirror, or out of the corner of your eye furtively and fleetingly. Or take a quick snap on your phone then stare at that. Just don’t make eye-contact, else they could have you thrown out for not being aloof enough.
There’s no happy hour
You won’t get a two-for-one or a buy-one-get-one-free (which are actually the same thing) in this place. There’s no need, because the whispering masses would never embrace such overt desperation. No, you want cocktails you’ve barely heard of at absurd prices. One for the price of one, eight till late. Although, actually, 8pm might be a bit early to turn up. You don’t want to appear eager.
You are in a speakeasy
Sounds blatant enough, but bear in mind that these places like to make you work for your cocktails. The whole place will be shrouded in a clandestine undergroundness that basically means that finding the door is a bit difficult. Truth be told, most of these places are about as secretive as a guy on a bench with two eyeholes cut out of his newspaper. They’re not even illegal.
Your drinking receptacle is unconventional
We’re at the stage where if you went to a bar and your drink came in a conventional glass, you’d wonder what the hell was going on. Are they all out of jam jars? Teacups? Tiny watering cans? Those plastic pots that you fill up with detergent and put into washing machines? Are all the ancient goblets and WWII canteens in the dishwasher? Shouldn’t you be lapping your Long Island ice tea from a saucer like a cat?