An elusive doorway and an exclusive door policy add to the speakeasy sentiment at one of London’s most famed cocktail clubs. Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown mixes with prowess in some of the slickest vintage surroundings.
Your first task is finding ECC Chinatown, with the only real signs of life coming from the much-feared, clipboard-toting doorman. He stands in front of a simple black doorway chipped away at to reveal flecks of red paint. If granted entry you pass up a staircase and are greeted by much more welcoming staff in vintage attire, and you’ll likely be taken aback by the overall effect of the intimate bar. Black drapes cover the windows, adding to the speakeasy effect, and it’s evident that no expense has been spared in kitting out the luxurious space, in stark contrast with the minimalistic bar entrance. Plush, scooped chairs in turquoise velvet or monochrome patterning cluster at the back of the room, luxurious wallpaper and Chinese gold leaf hangings glisten on walls and the glorious Art Deco ceiling is breathtaking on the next floor up, in a swanky room available for private hire.
ECC could well stand for Exclusive Cocktail Club, although, it’s down to personal interpretation as to whether ECC Chinatown is exclusive or just a bit too big for its boots – despite half the capacity being left for walk-ins, you may be left feeling quite bitter if turned away, which will likely happen at peak times or if you don’t ‘look the part’. You’re best advised to book ahead rather than risking it. But regardless of what you make of the snooty clipboard-carrying doorman and his judgmental roving gaze, you’ll probably quite appreciate the way this restricts overcrowding at the bar – you’ll find a seat and will be waited on efficiently, adding to the special feeling of it all.
Gramophone tunes and a gentle murmur of conversation takes over and bar staff in braces with brilliantine hair compare cocktail shaking skills. If you’re perched at the bar, staff may even eavesdrop on your decision-making and have your cocktail whipped up before you even realise you’ve ordered. It’s certainly not the sort of down-to-earth or fun-for-all cocktail club you may be accustomed to, but it’s good to know the drinks are taken very seriously indeed.
Cocktails are up there with the best of them, but you’d expect that at £11.50-£13 a pop plus service charge. And it’s hard to see how they’re all that experimental when pitched against other cocktails crafted across the capital. But they are delicious and there is no doubting the skill at the bar when you see them quickly put those drinks together. An Old Cuban (£12.25) is rum-based and topped off with Billecart-Salmon Champagne. Ginger syrup gives it a tropical tang, mint gives sweetness and a splash of Angostura bitters on top adds colour and complex edge. Get Buck in Here (£11.50) is both popular and lethal thanks to Beefeater gin and absinthe mixed with lemon, ginger ale and grapefruit. Other drinks take on global influences – pisco, mate, byrrh, Aperol and even London’s own Caravan coffee beans feature on the listed ingredients from far and wide. And if the buzz of getting in to this exclusive bar goes to your head, you can splash the cash on vintage cocktails, starting at £120 for a Negroni crafted from aged tipples.
The Last Word
Some people may prefer their cocktail clubs a little looser, but book ahead for special occasions and you’re bound to appreciate the sophistication, style and sass of it all. And boy, do they make a good drink.