Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge is everything a cocktail lounge should be. It’s classy, intimate and supremely mood-drenched. It’s hardly a surprise though, with the concept coming from some of the best names in the business.
This Georgian townhouse setting is as classy as a cocktail lounge can be and immediately sets the mood for the night ahead. Overlooking Clerkenwell’s cobbled St John’s Square – home to the Modern Pantry, The Zetter Hotel and Bistro Bruno Loubet over the road – Zetter Townhouse is already off to a salubrious start. Inside, the townhouse holds a dozen boutique hotel rooms, yet the ground floor is given over to the art of cocktail making, with Tony Conigliaro devising the drinks and Bruno Loubet on food duties.
The credentials of Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge speak for themselves, but the décor lives up to this high precedent, too. It’s laid out like a secret member’s lounge, with rich red hues on the walls, expensive rugs on the dark, wooden floorboards and extravagant chandeliers and lampshades up above and on the sidelines. Through a bookcase and there’s a further formal dining room, ideal for intimate gatherings. It’s like a modern Downton Abbey in this original lounge, thanks to Corinthian columns, Regency dressers, decadent crushed velvet sofa seats and old-fashioned still life portraits on the walls. You’d hardly believe it to be a hotel bar.
It’s muted sophistication here, and buzz and chatter drifts out through the windows and door onto the cobbled square come night time. You’ll be hard-pushed to find a more buzzing hotel bar in the capital, with a really pleasant mix of guests and non-residents. Visitors are on the most part 30- to 40-somethings, with gents well turned-out in crisp suits and women sporting expensive blow dries. It should be stuffy, but most are getting pretty loose thanks to some heady cocktails and a Great Gatsby-esque soundtrack. It’s a chic aperitif spot, but is much better suited to a nightcap. Reservations are encouraged so that you can nab a sofa spot in the lounge or a stool by the bar for optimum enjoyment. Otherwise, you may end up cornered in by the hotel elevator and away from all the action. Service can be off-kilter though – some unflappable staff members are full of the kind of zany character that suits the Townhouse to a tee, while others flit around nervously or gaze on insouciantly.
Chef Bruno Loubet has devised a menu of small eats and quirky 'super bowls' for lunch and dinner snacking. Super bowls are large affairs more appropriate for hungry hotel guests than those stopping by for cocktails, but try resisting the French chef’s beef daube Bourguignon (£8.50). A charcuterie board for two (£12) is much more appropriate bar snacking fare though, and is a rustic spread of continental meats, a peppery terrine and pork rillettes, all served with fluffy toast and a roughly cut piccalilli. Some options are so traditional they’re almost retro – the scotch egg with curry mayonnaise (£4.50), for example – while other bar snacks are a bit more international, like babaganoush with paper bread and harissa (£5.50) and potato, spinach and feta samosa (£6.50). It’s fair to say the originality and flair shown in Zetter Townhouse's décor is perfectly matched on the bar snack menu.
Mixology spearhead Tony Conigliaro picks up where Bruno Loubet leaves off and crafts a menu that harks back to the cocktail’s humble heyday. Think Prohibition-style Martinis and you’re along the right lines. But Tony C puts his mixology twist on things, just as he does at 69 Colebrooke Row. It’s the creative in-house syrups, aromatics and distillations that make these drinks so unique. And so the Köln Martini is a traditional dry gin mix with citrus aromatics added from a cute tincture bottle when the drink arrives at your table. It’s a smooth, boozy option for classic cocktail fans. Another classic recreated is the Kir Noir, which uses Pinot Noir cordial in place of crème de cassis. It’s topped off with Perrier Jouet Champagne and has a finish that is just as fruity as the classic Kir Royal.
For something else sweet and sparkling, the apricot and elderflower tincture found in the the Soixante-Quinze – another Chamnpagne cocktail, this time with a Beefeater gin base – should do the trick, nicely rounded off with lemon juice for a tart background taste. However, those with a preference to these sweet tastes may struggle with some of the heftier cocktails, such a The Richmond. This ballsy blend of Chivas Regal Scotch and Lillet Blanc vermouth will knock your socks off, even with the addition of apple honey to smooth it out somewhat. All house cocktails are priced at £8.50, while off-list requests come for £9.50. Although they are perfectly polished, be aware that they are served in diddy little glasses – make sure you savour the flavour of these wondrous cocktails before they’re all gone.
The Last Word
Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge is so astonishing and atmospheric thanks to such careful consideration of food, drink and décor, down to the very last detail. If the service were as polished, it would be perfection. Be sure to book ahead to get the most buzz from what must be one of the very best hotel bars the capital has to offer.