The great commentator, H.L.Mencken, observed: “The cocktail is the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet.” Canonbury’s The Four Sisters demonstrates, however, that the perfection of American cocktail-making can be equalled in London. Bar owner Simon Bastable and head barman Andre Marian have championed creativity and care. As a result, the venue has grown in popularity since its re-launch as a dedicated cocktail bar in October 2012.
Four Sisters is conveniently located on Canonbury Lane, just off the lively nightlife centre of Upper Street and close to Highbury and Islington tube station. A black-painted and wide-windowed frontage proclaims the bar’s origin as a sturdy local pub, as does its narrow and compact interior. It has brown wood panelling on the walls and matching wooden floorboards. There’s a cosy and eclectic, pub-style jumble of upholstery-topped stools, chairs and tables, sofas, banquettes and framed mirrors. The single bar has an eye-catching rear set of shelving thanks to a kaleidoscopic array of bottles and containers. These include screw-topped kilner jars of maturing spirit infusions and colourful pots of home-produced syrups and mixers. Impressive furthermore is the array of bartender’s tools that can be seen – shaker, strainer, muddler, tongs and all.
Renowned comedian George Burns asserted: “Happiness is a good cocktail with a good woman,” and he reached 100 years enjoying the company of both. Likely a sign of the times, the civilised offerings and style of The Four Sisters seems more attractive to women - groups of girls come in frequently for a cocktail and a chat. They join many male customers who include local residents and those working in Canonbury and Islington. There’s an attraction to all generations, but Friday and Saturday nights tend to be favoured by younger folk. Parties and get-togethers of up to 18 can be held in a discrete rear area. Although currently The Four Sisters doesn’t serve food, the nearby and highly-regarded Euphorium Bakery will provide any necessary sustenance.
The cocktail achieved celebrity and notoriety during the arid and pernicious period of Prohibition in the United States. Ingenuity led to a remarkable array of colouring and flavouring syrups and mixers – plus mounds of crushed ice employed to mask the core alcohol from law enforcement inspection. Such ingenuity has continued to inspire cocktail creation and does so distinctively at The Four Sisters. The distinctiveness originates in great part from the complementary skills of Simon and Andre. Simon is an engineering graduate with a commitment to product excellence; Andre is a psychology graduate with an insight into human tastes. Their infusions and syrups are awesomely innovative: infusions include bacon-washed bourbon, apple- and pear-infused rum, chilli-infused vodka, lemongrass-infused gin, and orange- and blackberry-infused pisco. Beer syrup, rose syrup and chamomile tea syrup are just as imaginative.
Availability of so many ingredients, spirits, infusions and syrups means that any cocktail can be created to suit personal requests. But the 27 cocktails listed are varied enough to please most punters. Soul Sister blends fig-infused bourbon, white chocolate liqueur, vanilla and rum syrup and cream, Trader Vic’s Mai Tai holds Havana Anejo Especial, orange curacao and almond-derived orgeat syrup and Coffee Cocktail belies its name by blending Martell VS, Carpano Antica, Cherry Heering, egg, vanilla and rum syrup. The cost of a cocktail is from £7.50 to £9 - great value for the quality. In addition, a happy hour until 7pm every day offers two house favourite cocktails (from a list of nine) for £10. These include such classics as a Singapore Sling with Bombay Sapphire gin or a Raspberry Russian with vodka.
Cocktails make up 65 per cent of all sales. The wine list, however, is interesting, with whites including a Spanish Macebo and the iconic Argentine Torrontes; among the reds are a Cape Pinotage and a Spanish Rioja Reserva. Pricing is keen with bottles at £15.50 upwards. The draught beers are Leffe, Kozel, Peroni and Pilsner Urquell, while Stowford Press is the keg cider.
The Last Word
Devotees throng the trendy cocktail bars of happening Manhattan districts such as Flatiron and Meatpacking. Go along to Canonbury and Four Sisters to appreciate what they are enjoying. Remember, though, that cocktails can be dangerous as well as divine. In the words of the nonpareil of New York wit, Dorothy Parker:
“I like a martini cocktail
Just one or two at the most
Three, I’m under the table
Four, I’m under the host.”