Perhaps there's more to mid-Atlantic cross pollination than an easterly drift of upmarket burgers, distressed brick walls and filament light bulbs from New York City. A decade of experimentation and the revival of pre-prohibition cocktails in America has seen an emphasis on 'lost' flavours, botanicals and hard to find mixers championed by bartenders who emphasise the scientific over the circus act. Cocktails have caught on over here, and a new crop of bartenders and their advocates have done more for the bijou bar scene ('speakeasy' in the imported parlance) than any number of bouncer patrolled 'VIP' entrances - and there's not a Cosmo in sight.
Hiding behind anonymous doors, speakeasies gravitate toward the media-land matrix of central and East London, where security and celebrity are less important to punters than a bit of glamour and a departure from the mainstream - Mad Men and Broadwalk Empire haven't hurt, either. Seating only policies and a focus on ingredients shift the focus from getting schickered to a more civilised reimagining of the glory days of cocktails from the roaring twenties to the 1960s.
Tony Conigliaro is one of the most prominent pioneers of this new mixology, whose bar, 69 Colebrook Row, exemplifies the trend. On the menu you'll find the Haiku - Kigo Sochu with almond and rice milk and sandalwood - and a Gonzales, combining tequila, caramel liqueur, honey water, tuberose hydrosol and a lemon twist.
The Experimental Cocktail Club has a sibling in Paris, but its drinks and interiors are more Hudson River than Rive Gauche. London's ECC lives upstairs in Chinatown, in what was once a morning after the night before haunt for London's underworld. Lesser known French drinks like gentian-based Suze make their way into the eclectic line-up that includes vintage gins.
Touting itself as a Victorian Gin Palace cum speakeasy, Purl gets medicinal with molecular concoctions involving raw bark quinine chippings, tinctures and a cocktail trolley service boasting forgotten British classics. Mark's Bar - downstairs at Mark Hix's eponymous restaurant - offers drinks headlined "Early British Libations," "London's Golden Age," "On the Continent and in the Colonies." Hix ticks the boxes, with low lighting, pressed metal ceilings, and befitting a haunt beneath a kitchen of this calibre, enviable bar snacks.
More street level than speakeasy but resolutely focused on cocktails, The Hide lets you to delve into historic recipes dating back more than a century - very of the moment. Classics like the French 75, Sazerac and Martinez (a possible precursor of the Martini) share the bar with house creations. Around Shoreditch you (might) find Calloo Callay, itself hiding another, even more clandestine bar; Lounge Bohemia , with its designer 1960s Eastern Bloc interior; and live music friendly newcomer, Nightjar.
Locating a speakeasy isn't meant to be easy - even if Google Maps has deflated some of the mystery. If you know of any others - pop-up, upstairs or downstairs - let us know.