Let's be honest: the speakeasy game in London is pretty fierce right now. There's a speakeasy in nearly every neighborhood, ready to cater to just about any wacky whim you might have (fancy a 1940s-themed evening in an old tube carriage? Just head to Cahoots! How about a bar hidden behind the bookshelf of an old detective agency? Evans & Peel have got you covered!). And don't get me wrong, these bars are all friggin' fantastic, but what about when you want to keep it simple and try something a bit more traditional? Well if you ever find yourself in London's borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the answer to your problem is Barts, London's "worst kept secret."
For my first visit to Barts, I meet my friend outside the South Kensington tube station and we walk to the address given, which turns out to be a sleek 1930s apartment building. Upon entering the lobby we make sure to keep our heads low (lest the receptionists get wise and rat us out to the cops) and set about finding the secret door. Just past the lobby we spot a black door with a lantern next to it, reminiscent of New York's Raines Law Room. We ring the bell and a Wizard of Oz-esque hatch slides open to reveal a pair of suspicious eyes. It's at this point that I recite the secret password and we are at last admitted to the bar.
The decor is classic prohibition style, with chintzy red wallpaper, a sleek black booth running the length of the room, and a healthy array of antique knick-knacks. It's a pretty cozy place that would lend itself nicely to first dates and catch-ups with old friends. There's also a dress-up box full of strange hats, wigs and even a horse costume. And really, who doesn't love a dress-up box?
The cocktail menu, hidden in various books so as to throw the coppers off the scent, provides plenty of options. There are some sharing cocktails served in teapots and a wide array of individual cocktails to choose from. I opt for an iced coffee concoction to start, which hits the spot perfectly. The smoky cocktails are also a unique treat, with my Cignature Cocktail (Perique Tobacco Liqueur and Moet Champagne) going down a treat. I do experience slight drink envy when my friend's Pickled Ploughman arrives, complete with a slice of blue stilton on the side, but he's kind enough to share (take note: anyone who's willing to share their cheese with me is a friend for life).
Overall it's a great evening. The service is friendly and attentive without being overbearing, and the drinks are tasty and varied. If you ever find yourself in this part of London, I'd suggest you check it out.
PERFECT FOR: After-Dinner Drinks
Our visit fell at 7pm on a sunny Sunday and we ended up in the Cuban-themed garden sipping cocktails under the fading sun. While this was great, I imagine that Barts is at its best once the sun has set and the candles have been lit, giving the place a proper intimate speakeasy feel. Ah well, lesson learnt for next time!