J.J. Goodman is a talented and gregarious young bartender with terrifyingly large reserves of energy and the retro-groovy flair of a reincarnated Austin Powers. Goodman and some partners opened up the London Cocktail Club not long ago as a place to showcase their mixological talents. They didn’t have much money, so they took a sort of hermit-crab approach: they found space and they moved in.
In this case, the available space was the lobby of the Art Theater, a low-key peformance space in a basement near the heart of London’s theater district. It’s scarcely marked — they call it a “Victorian speakeasy,” a concept that makes my brain stutter — but you can find it with just a street address, a little Googling, and by paying attention walking down the block. They serve drinks before shows and during intermissions — theatre patrons “don’t drink as much as I’d hoped,” Goodman told me — but the bar is also open when the theater is not.
The space is low-ceilinged, compact and casual, with some leather chesterfields and a four-seat bar. It has the feel of a gentleman’s club as envisioned and created by underfunded university students — and I mean that in a good way. The crowds tend toward the young and hipsterish.
The cocktail list is fun to peruse, and offers a respectful detour through the old familiars (Vesper, old-fashioned with orange bitters) before setting off into new terrain, where the owners strut their stuff.
Alas, I never got past the detour. The unexplored territories alarmed me more than a little (Cachaca and cream? A “martini” with vodka, pineapple juice, and Chambord?), and I opted to remain on familiar ground, which I found comforting and pleasing. If you get to the new territories send me a postcard — I’ve been more curious in retrospect than I was when actually there.
Also a little alarming: Flair. A couple of the barmen when I visited gave in to occasional outbreaks of flying bottles and shakers, which I find never enhances my drinking mood.
Bottom line: Stop by for a drink to support the next wave of bartender, but no need to linger long.
London Cocktail Club, 6-7 Great Newport Street, Covent Garden, London.