The year 1806 is the first year the word 'cocktail' appeared in print, so the story goes, and the team at this CBD bar take that history very seriously. The menu used to be broken into decades, with at least one drink from each, but now it's a mixture of classics, twists on classics and perfectly balanced drinks of 1806's own devising. If you have a hankering for any particular drink, the polished bartenders here will be happy to make it for you, and they are also happy to take requests based on personal preference. If you're feeling like a single spirit, 1806 has an extremely impressive back bar, and you can take your pick of whisky flights if you don't want to settle on one.
Drinks are made to the highest standard, with premium ingredients and the freshest garnishes and mixers. Bartenders will deliver a textbook Gimlet, the perfect balance of sweet and sour, zesty and refreshing, as easily as they will a more complicated concoction of their own invention. They take the art of cocktail making extremely seriously, but that doesn't mean drinking can't be fun. When we visited we sipped a house-created Georgie on My Mind, a chocolate-peanut butter hot cocktail that tasted exactly like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in boozy, liquid form. The staff here will serve you a Pina Colada with just as much attention to detail as they put into a Negroni, and both will be perfectly proportioned.
The decor here is old-world glamour from top to toe, with deep leather chesterfields and red velvet bar stools. The colour scheme is red, black and dark wood, which makes the space feel like a glamorous old-world cabaret. The bar staff and front of house are unfailingly polite, prompt and helpful, no matter what you're in the mood for. There's also a mezzanine level with a balcony overlooking the main bar, so no matter where you are sitting you can catch a glimpse of the action.
Or head downstairs to the Understudy, which is like the Upside Down version of 1806. Where 1806 is as classic as they come, Understudy is wild and experimental. The bar focuses on unusual and underserved spirits, such as Irish poitin (essentially Irish moonshine) or Sri Lankan arrack (made from coconut flowers). The Understudy's talented bartenders combine these spirits in totally new ways, creating twists on classics or utterly novel drinks. The menu is laid out like a treasure map, with cocktails from around the world placed on their country of origin. The only constant here is change and innovation, with new drinks finding a home here but the menu limited to eight at a time. The Understudy has the same impeccable service and attention to detail as its upstairs big sister, but its drinks list is a completely different – and completely delicious – beast.
Cassidy Knowlton visited Understudy as a guest of 1806.