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The Cocktail Bar With No Name

Published 7 April 2010

Hidden away on a dark Islington backstreet is a cocktail bar with no name. It’s small, dark and plays jazz, and it’s strictly for those in-the-know.

There’s room for just 30 people at full capacity in the Tokyo influenced joint (I think that means small), but gaining accolade after accolade, this secret hideaway is becoming ever better known with each award it wins.

Owner Tony Conigliaro has been named 2009 International Bartender of the Year, and the nameless venue was Time Out’s best new bar in 2009. Even Hollywood has caught on of late with a couple of very high profile names calling in on fleeting London visits – much to the chagrin of Tony, who’d much rather the bar stayed under the radar. However, he has tried his hardest. No name, a grotty back alley venue, as inconspicuous an entrance as can be imagined… but it’s not every bar that comes complete with a mad scientist’s lab in the loft and a “molecular mixology” cocktail menu that would make Heston Blumenthal proud, so word soon spreads. Its address at 69 Colebrooke Row has become a substitute for a name and the bar is fast becoming the place for cocktail connoisseurs.

Privileged to be occupying a much sought after chair, it’s time to try what’s on offer. In classic style, why not start with a dry martini? The dryness of this iconic cocktail makes it an ideal aperitif, getting the saliva flowing and whetting the appetite. At Colebrooke Row, though, dry is never dry enough. If you’ve ever eaten grape seeds, you’ll have experienced how astringent and drying these can be. In his lab, Tony’s gone a step further and steeped these seeds in neat alcohol before concentrating it to create a “liquid dryness” ready to be dropped by pipette into every martini, which he makes using extra-dry Martini vermouth and Beefeater 24 London dry gin – a favourite of Tony’s due to the addition of green tea as a botanical. Blending drinks for cocktails, or indeed flavours in food recipes, revolves around finding flavours that share chemical characteristics. The tongue is the usual tool, but being something of a would-be scientist, Tony has of course used a machine which analyses the flavours present instead. It transpires that green tea has one of the broadest chemical flavour ranges of all foods, and so mixes well with a diverse range of ingredients, making this subtly tea-infused gin ideal for all manner of cocktails.

If you think pipettes are showy, Tony’s taken it a step further with his take on a gin fizz. Effectively gin, soda water and lemon juice, the drink is again based on Beefeater 24 gin, but lacking one crucial ingredient – fizz. Served in metal-capped bottles, the wacky plan is to disappoint drinkers when the bottle opens without the merest hiss. Indeed, it was expectedly heart-deflating. The antidote, though, comes in the form of bicarbonate-based powder served alongside, which once poured into the drink creates the desired fizz. The Alka-Seltzer look of the drink has given it the name “the morning after”, which is printed on the bottles – and given how easy to drink it is, this may be very apt…

More deadly, though, is Tony’s latest development. His plight to create the perfect Bloody Mary recipe has led him down the tearful route of creating horseradish vodka. If you know the effect of grating some of the spicy root, you can imagine the

consequences of a shot of this stuff. Mixed into a substantial amount of tomato juice, though, it provides an addictive kick, which is backed up by a super-savoury umami flavour provided by the unusual addition of miso.  The result is a mouth-filling cocktail that hits every tastebud, but Tony isn’t convinced he’s quite cracked it yet. He tinkers on to improve it until he’s satisfied that 69 Colebrooke Row’s is well and truly the bloodiest Mary of them all.

You’ll have to pop down to see how the cocktails have evolved, just don’t whatever you do let on to Tony that the secret is out…

Speciality: Cocktails! (Heston Blumental style)
Price range:
Approx. £7 per cocktail
69 Colebrooke Row, Islington, London, N1 8AA (location map)
Nearest Tube Station: Angel (7 minutes walk), Highbury & Islington (15 minutes walk)
Telephone number for booking: +44 (0)754 052 8593
Website: http://www.69colebrookerow.com

Article written by Ben Norum.