A hidden drinking den deep in the heart of Soho...
If you like your cocktail bars small, dark and cosy, then you'll love The Vault, a fab little gem of a bar hidden below Milroy's specialist whisky shop in Soho.
To the untrained visitor, it looks like an ordinary whisky shop until you open the bookshelf door at the back, which leads to the cocktail bar in the basement. As a kid, I always dreamed of having one of these doors, and as an adult, the novelty factor is still just as strong.
Launched in January 2015, the 55-capacity speakeasy is already proving popular with the local media crowd and trendy young 20 or 30-somethings with a love for strong, innovative cocktails. The atmosphere is very low-key, making it the type of place where you can actually carry on a conversation with friends, while still having just enough buzz to keep it interesting (something that becomes increasingly more important when you're no longer in your early 20s).
Owner Simo who is 'bringing back the 90s by going by one name like Cher', his words not mine, built the bar himself, using his construction skills to rescue the bar from its tacky 70s interior to transform it into a comfortable, cocoon-like space where one can easily while away the hours while enjoying a stiff tipple.
Joining him at the helm is Bar Manager Natalino Marano, formerly of Coal Vaults on Wardour Street, (where he met Simo). Italian born and bred (the name kind of gives it away), Natalino is all charm as he furiously shakes cocktails into submission, ensuring that every drink is perfectly executed.
The two make a dynamic duo and you get the impression that they really love what they're doing. In fact, they're so friendly and welcoming you're made to feel as if you're a regular, even if it's your first visit. I'm going to think of it as my own personal Cheers (a popular American TV show in the 80s and 90s for those who may not get the reference).
In the short time that The Vault has been open, they've already launched two cocktail menus, which involves Simo and Natalino sitting around a table testing and enjoying new drink concoction, all in the name of research. If you ask me, they've definitely got the whole work/life balance thing figured out!
During my visit I sampled several cocktails featured on the Summer Cocktail Menu, all of which were totally unique and exceptionally prepared. One of the things that sets apart the cocktails at The Vault is their use of fresh ingredients and their love for infusing spirits using fruits and herbs.
Bar Manager Natalino said that the most difficult aspect of making cocktails is knowing what appeals to different palates. He said: "If everyone's tastes were the same it would be much easier, but boring." Based on the innovative drinks that form the cocktail menu, you can tell that they are really pushing the boat out in efforts to avoid being labeled as dull.
Highlights of the cocktail menu included the Carnabation Army (barrel aged Boulvadier, Bourbon, Campari, Camparno Antica); Blood in the Snow (White Armagnac, Figs, Demerara Sugar, Lemon, Egg White, Peychaud's Bitters); the Red Rimmer (Mezcal, Jalapeno Pepper, Agave, Lime, Grapefruit, Spiced Rum) and the Scandy Dandy (named after its Scandavian base spirit) and mixed with Caramel, Vanilla, Sea Salt, Lemon and Rosemary.
While all of these wild concoctions are indeed cool and it's always great to try something different, I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to cocktails, shunning the unique for classic favourites. The Old Fashioned (topped with Mezcal for a twist on an original) and the Espresso Martini (which uses Bolivian chocolate) were both superb and one of the best versions I've had of each. Rumour even has it that even the Bolivian Ambassador has been down to enjoy the Espresso Martini to see what the fuss is all about! Quite frankly, if the cocktails here are good enough for an ambassador, they're good enough for me!
Get there now before you need to fight off the crowds to secure a stool at the bar...
Milroy's of Soho
3 Greek Street
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