It’s easy to screw your face up at the thought of BYOC (Bring Your Own Cocktail). After all, this new speakeasy charges £20 per head for two hours and for the privilege of bringing your own bottle of spirit to the bar. But once you get stuck into those cocktails and get all misty-eyed to a gramophone soundtrack, you may very well drown out all that scepticism.
BYOC is on Covent Garden’s Bedfordbury Street, ideally placed near to a late-night Tesco Metro for those who haven’t forward-planned (the supermarket chain is likely rubbing its hands together now). You wouldn’t necessarily know BYOC was here, though. Step inside the Juice Club, ask about your reservation and all will be revealed as a door to the rear unveils a narrow set of stairs into the almost-pitch black. Downstairs is a tiny room illuminated by candlelight alone, and guests already on the liquor will turn their heads to you as you arrive, since the room is so small and secretive, you’re practically intruding.
This basement has enough room for up to 18 people, with reservations taken for parties of up to four, but even so, the room can feel quite cosy when at full capacity. Since it’s so dark down here, decoration is kept to a minimum, although a few artefacts and antiques keep things on theme. The toilet probably provides most visual appeal since (luckily) you’re not kept in the dark here – the walls are made from black chalkboard and you’re encouraged to scrawl a message while visiting. The main focus, however, is on the mystical drinks trolley; an antique found from the Netherlands and brought to BYOC to help craft cocktails at each table. It’s even paid homage to in the wallpaper on the stairwell, which carries its silhouette in gold.
Without a licence to sell alcohol, this is a pretty genuine speakeasy by 2013 standards. To maximise on the speakeasy spirit, a gramophone – which actually functions on the soundwaves from an iPad – plays the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, incense is burned for a smoky effect, and the bartender (or ‘trolleytender’, perhaps) is dressed in a formal black and white uniform. Said bartender and co-owner, Dan Thompson (also general manager at much-famed Soho speakeasy Milk & Honey), is enthusiastic and swift as he works his way around the room and gets conversation going between groups. It’s best to take this policy, too – strike up a conversation with your neighbour and you can exchange on booze and further enhance your cocktail options. Before you know it, the whole room is in negotiation.
Although many arrive with a bottle of booze and perhaps a closed mind, most leave feeling pretty tipsy and open to the prospect of a BYO bar actually working. Granted you’re paying £20 for two hours as well as covering the cost of liquor, but you’ll be very surprised by just how many cocktails you can squeeze in, if a challenge is your kind of thing. There’s already legend of a pair of girls polishing off a bottle of vodka in one sitting, and that’s just in week one of opening.
In the name of sobriety, a neat little platter of tasty snacks is placed on each table and kept steadily replenished – think crackers, olives, figs, continental meats and cheeses.
Where the night takes you is really your choice at BYOC. Come armed with an artillery of spirits, opt for a more unusual liqueur for a challenge or play it safe with an obvious bottle of all-rounder booze. Opting for a gin, for example, would put you in good stead – with this Dan creates drinks according to your personal tastes, using his textbook knowledge of cocktails and the stock of his trolley alone. A refreshing mix of cucumber, mint, and fruits starts things off gently, a more potent cherry-flavoured concoction resembles an Old Fashioned, fresh fruit is used to make a berry Gin Fizz and ginger beer and limes come into play in a refreshing long drink – the options are endless and all taste sublime. Syrups, fresh fruits, a few mixers and some cocktail onions are just a handful of options on stand-by on the trolley. Get talking to the table next to you and you’ve really got a party going.
The Last Word
Reserve yourself a spot in this thoroughly authentic speakeasy, and fast. It provides a wholly original – and surprisingly affordable – drinking experience that is fun and totally tailored to your tastes and tolerance levels. Just watch those stairs on the way out.