Don’t let the din of Drunken Monkey at the corner of Shoreditch High Street and Commercial Street dissuade you from hunting out Lounge Bohemia, just a few steps round the corner.
Turn the corner of Commercial Street and just before the kebab shop look closely and you will see a discreet, dark doorway. Entering you will notice walls lined with newspaper print and foreign text, then down a flight of metal stairs you will reach the lounge - which can seem like less of a lounge in the cosy sense of the word, and more in the style of a colourful cafe. Almost as secretive as the entrance is Lounge Bohemia’s hidden bathrooms; a completely camouflaged door along a wall with wild printed wallpaper.
A back-lit bar is at the bottom of the staircase but drinks are ordered from tables only, so no standing in queues and no standing room full stop – it’s table or nothing. These must be reserved in advance but staff are friendly and accommodating, so if you do happen to be lucky enough to arrive at a time when someone has not turned up, rest assured you will benefit from their slip-up.
Groups of friends chat casually and soft swing music plays in the background. It’s a nice alternative to busy, noisy bars in the area and has a relaxed and welcoming feel; a notch or two louder on the tunes wouldn’t hurt though. Being hidden from view and set in the basement you almost feel a bit exclusive, like Lounge Bohemia is your own underground cubby hole. Low ceilings, grey walls and room for only a few dozen, the space is intimate. Soft lighting does bring out a cosier feel as large knotted, white lampshades provide a yellow glow. A floor lamp with a long arching stem stretches from the edge of the room across to the middle, allowing a lampshade to suspend itself above a table quite a distance away. A darker bay in the corner appears comfier with its cushioned sofa.
Placed on the table is a book in Czech, but upon opening it and flicking through a few pages of unfamiliar language you stumble upon the menu hiding within. It’s a quirky touch, a great photo opportunity and an interesting talking point for first timers. And waitresses come to your table and are helpful with suggestions, which is great when you are so spoilt for choice. A jug of complimentary water is brought over, but stranger than the lime green plastic jug and stackable plastic beakers are the words from your waitress of, ‘some hydration’, as it’s set upon the table.
Quirky canapés on the menu are not your run of the mill options; marinated figs, wrapped prunes, dried apricots with cheese. But when a complimentary selection is brought over on a tray, you may well be enticed to order more. Dried apricot and hazelnut with cream cheese, peppered ham and prune, and smoked salmon with horseradish and cream cheese are all interesting and full of flavour. There are 12 to choose from in sections of vegetarian, meat and fish, and cost £3.95 for four. Olives or roasted mixed nuts are also available (£2.50).
This casual-looking bar doesn’t have such a casual price tag, as drinks cost what you’d expect for trendy Shoreditch; martinis and short drinks for £7.75, long drinks for £8.25, wines at £5 per glass and a selection of Eastern European beers for £4.50. Alternative cocktails stand out as the main attraction on the menu, with curious options from the manipulative mixology cocktail menu (£14). These include an Old Castro – infused with a Cuban cigar - and an Edison – 100 proof spirit with a touch of electricity. Superior spirit cocktails, an upgrade on the classics, cost £12, with regulars by request at £8.25. An Apple Pie Martini (£7.75) actually tastes exactly as its name implies; vanilla and biscuit vodka, cinnamon syrup, apple liquor and juice. It tastes so good you won’t even notice its strength – until you stand up, that is. And a long drink titled Van the Man (£8.25) is a refreshing yet potent blend of absinth, lime, elderflower liquor and ginger beer.
Spirits are served as doubles, unless you specifically request a single, with whiskey and bourbons starting from £6 for a Jack Daniels or a Jameson, and ranging up to £18 for a Macallan 21 year old fine oak malt, or £25 for a 25 year old Chivas regal. White or red wine is available from £5 for the glass or £20 the bottle, with champagnes available only by the bottle at £65-£165. Absinthe experiences cost from £6.50 to £10 and from 53% to 70% proof. But if you did happen to be designated driver for the evening then fear not, virgin cocktails are just as imaginative and flavoursome (£4).
The Last Word
Curious cocktails, superb flavours and crazy canapés; Lounge Bohemia is hidden from view but still stands out from the crowd, luckily without drawing in the usual crowds of the area, too. Come here for an original night out, but watch out when you stand up - a few slurps of your tipple may go straight to your head, and the camouflaged bathroom may prove even more of a challenge to find.