Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Best New Old Bar in Shoreditch

By Captain Rose-Day, of the starship Fluid London.

Shoreditch: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Fluid London. Its mission: to explore strange new bars, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man, or woman, has gone before.

Stepping from our DeLorean time machine onto Curtain Road in Shoreditch, myself and Lieutenant Williams were welcomed by a beautiful woman in a figure-hugging black satin dress, victory rolls in her hair, and pearly white teeth beaming from within a frame of thick red lipstick. She decorated us both with wristbands and then lead us gracefully down a tricky cast iron spiral staircase, despite her sizable heels.

She wasn’t the only female of the species that wore vintage clothing, though; there were various others in military outfits, flapper outfits, and some who looked like they had stepped out from the 1970s. Yet none were incongruous in the ostentatious setting of the Ninetyeight bar & lounge. This was anachronistic London, at its very best. We appeared to have landed in a forgotten era of London, where ‘vintage’ was very much par for the course.

What was formerly an esoteric members bar, has now, after 20-odd years, opened up to the public; this being launch night. The proprietor, Kath Morrell, edified us in the ways of Ninetyeight, mentioning the vintage afternoon teas on Sundays, the vintage clothing and movie nights, the art gallery upstairs, the mixology school up top, the burlesque shows, and the cocktails that focus primarily on infusions - all made on site and housed at the top of a small yet packed back bar - and playful molecular techniques. In our short visit to Ninetyeight bar & lounge we witnessed men sucking on rum-soaked sugar cane, and ladies sipping cocktails through straws as long as their arm.

Lieutenant Williams and I felt immediately at ease enough to join the natives in their libation celebrations. Lieutenant Williams was ‘Off In The Clouds’ with gin and lavender-infused vodka, whilst I was getting to grips with a ‘Good Old Fashion Sunday Roast’, a rather potent mix of gold vodka infused with rosemary and oregano. The chirpy Australian gents behind the bar, reminiscent of the band The Kooks with their curly mop-top hair, were determined to make us feel welcome.

Taking a short reconnaissance mission around the bar & lounge, we were enthralled by the variety and flamboyance of the decor, which neared on kitsch without being vulgar: obsessive about candy, with sweets - both edible and ornamental - festooned about the bar; lampshades made of black and white feathers; prints, statues and paintings of animals; a grand piano; foliage; paraphernalia by the bucketload. The proprietor had either collected or made most of the furniture herself; such as the reclaimed ornate chair that had a seat made of deflated balloons.

As we sat comfortably lounging on a soft leather sofa, discussing Ann Widdecombe’s flying performance on Strictly Come Dancing, we were approached by a woman named Faye Presto, the UK’s leading female magician. The magical evening continued as Faye beguiled us with mind-reading card tricks, floating £20 notes, a variety of off-the-cuff, close-to-the-bone jokes.

The lavender, apple and hazlenut ‘Country Cottage Sour’ and the raspberry and espresso ‘98 Red Balloons’ martini put myself and Lieutenant Williams into some kind of giddy trance, and we felt that if we did not leave soon we might never manage to leave this peculiar domain at all. And so we removed ourselves, reeling with all the interesting observations we had learned: reserving an area is FREE (yes FREE), so ideal for birthday parties in Shoreditch; the so-so members policy (basically at the discretion of the beefy chap at the front door, whose job it is to make sure Ninetyeight never gets too crowded); and that the mischievous, inimitable style of Ninetyeight will be liked especially by the fairer sex, as evidenced by the plethora of fancy dress ladies who were no doubt on there way to a Blitz Party round the corner.

Our only gripe? That the bar itself was very small, and while there are lots of people behind it, they all seem to elbow each other out of the way, which could be potentially difficult to get drinks served quickly if a birthday group has arrived. Especially with the cocktails proving to be so intricate.

That, and some vintage music might improve the authenticity too.

Read more about new bars, restaurants, pubs, and club in London, check out the Fluid London Top 10 of new venues.

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