The rules were fairly simple: seven bars, one night, at least one cocktail in each. We – gin enthusiast Emma Cooke, and gin sceptic Dan Dalton – set out in search of delightful gin drinks in and around London's Soho. Our inside man for this mission was Leon Dalloway, owner of the Gin Journey tour and all-round gin expert, who was on hand to provide guidance and ginformation.
After filling up on fries and fatty food, the evening commenced. Here's how it went down...
Bar 1: Berners Tavern, 7:10pm
Dan Dalton: We arrived late, because food. Why did we choose this place?
Emma Cooke: We chose this place because 1) It is fancy AF, and 2) They stock gin.
DD: It was v fancy. Too fancy, some might say.
EC: I enjoyed it; I’m a fancy lady and felt I had come home to roost. Seriously though, you can’t deny this place was stunning.
DD: They looked at us like children drinking in a grown-up bar.
EC: I look like a child no matter what bar I’m in.
DD: What did you order?
EC: A Queensland Fizz, which was like a cream soda with gin in it.
DD: Yeah I didn’t like yours that much. Was like dessert. Sort of a meringue. Whipped egg whites and such.
EC: Normally that’s all I ask for in a drink, but I actually liked yours much better than mine.
DD: I ordered the Petrichor because I liked the name. Petrichor. Good word. It tasted like pine needles.
EC: Petrichor is a great word. I really liked how it tasted. Clean. Fresh. Like the smell of rain after a dry spell, if you will.
DD: I won’t. Tasted too much like gin for my liking. Did I mention I don't like gin?
EC: Many, many times.
DD: I mean if I have to have gin then this was drinkable. Like a pine car freshener that gets you drunk.
EC: Leon also really liked this one, and he is the gin expert. But then he was also an unspecified number of cocktails down before he arrived.
DD: Leon, our personal gin sage. He said mine was good, so I took his word for it.
Bar 2: Old Tom & English, 7:45pm
EC: This is one of my favourite bars in London.
DD: This is one of the only bars on our route I’d been to. Yet I still couldn’t find the door.
EC: By this point you’d had four cocktails though. Lunchtime margaritas were not a wise choice.
DD: Old Tom & English is like a magical cocktail realm, hidden behind a fancy door.
EC: It looks like something off the set of Mad Men inside.
DD: I ordered the Sloe Stirred, which was a bit like an Old Fashioned: good balance of sweet and bitter, served short on ice, with orange peel.
EC: Leon tried to get them to do their Smoked Old Fashioned with gin instead of whisky, which would have been amazing.
DD: An actual Old Fashioned would have been amazing.
EC: We were on a gin crawl. You had to make some concessions.
DD: What did you have? I only remember the chips. They brought us chips.
EC: Leon suggested ordering a Tom Collins, as that’s how they used to drink the Old Tom gin the bar is named for. He said more, but I was putting chips in my mouth and everything outside of the taste of hot fat and potato had faded to a dull murmur.
DD: I liked everything he said, I just don’t remember much of it. The gist was "gin is good."
EC: That sums up the whole night really.
DD: For you and Leon.
EC: I ended up ordering a Kola Kube, which was a mysterious "Old Tom House Recipe". All I know is that it had gin in it and tasted like childhood memories. It was garnished with actual Kola Kubes and I can't describe how happy that made me. Solid 5/5.
DD: Oh yeah. Another dessert drink.
EC: I have a sweet tooth. Don’t judge me.
DD: No idea why you like gin then.
EC: I like to keep people guessing.
DD: I like to keep people far way.
Bar 3: Blind Pig, 8:30pm
DD: Great neon. That’s what I remember about this bar. Neon and the smell of seared meat products.
EC: Another of my favourite bars.
DD: Of course it is. You're like a tiny cocktail fairy, travelling the land, drinking mixed beverages.
EC: My life's work is to be some kind of booze fairy. Technically the absinthe fairy position is taken but the gin fairy’s still up for grabs.
DD: Leon said: "Do you like pickle juice?" And I laughed because pickle juice. But he said he was serious – Leon rarely jokes, especially not about pickle juice. He then advised I try the Slap and Pickle, which involved gin and pickle juice.
EC: I've been drinking at the Blind Pig for three years, and have been through pretty much the whole menu already. So Liam the bartender, and all-round decent guy, made me something from scratch. Unfortunately that something had egg white in it, which I'm in a love-hate relationship with. People love to put in my cocktails. I hate it with an intensity that surprises even me.
DD: We also had a shot called a White Lady. Because when I’m five cocktails deep with five more to go, what I really need is a shot. And a glass of prosecco.
EC: The White Lady also had egg white in it. People need to stop putting egg white in cocktails. “Oh but you can't taste it!” they say. No, you can't taste it, but all that “texture” it adds pools in the back of your throat like alcoholic phlegm, BECAUSE IT’S RAW EGG WHITE AND THAT’S WHAT RAW EGG WHITE DOES.
DD: The Slap and Pickle turned out to be relatively clean and drinkable on first sip, but the vinegar aftertaste was a bit much. By the time I finished it, it may as well have been embalming fluid. 2/5 for me. I’d have been sick on two.
Emma: I think Liam twigged I wasn’t happy with the cocktail, after I yelled “FUCK EGG WHITE” across the bar at him. So he made me another that was 1,000x better. Gin, violet liqueur, orgeat, lemon, and soda – basically a floral Tom Collins. It tasted like children's laughter and Jane Austen heroines running through fields.
DD: Don’t think any of us touched the prosecco.
EC: There wasn’t any time. Turns out 40 minutes per bar is not as long as you think it is.
Bar 4: Graphic Bar, 9:15pm
DD: After the casual cool of the previous bars, Graphic was like a Club 18-30 party. Young people everywhere, being young and loud.
EC: It was dreadful. I hate youths. And loud music. And fun.
DD: Aren’t you, like, 15?
EC: I’m waiting to grow into my personality.
DD: Leon ordered. Graphic have every type of gin, so he was in his element.
EC: He was so happy. They offered him a job.
DD: The man knows his gin. I got a St George Gin with Mediterranean tonic, which if you know anything about me and my dislike of tonic, I was worried about. But I survived.
EC: I have a terrible secret. I don’t like tonic either.
DD: It tastes entirely of self-loathing and humiliating rejection.
EC: It tastes like regret made palpable.
DD: It takes like chewing nettles.
EC: Leon performed a miracle though. He came up with a G&T that I actually really liked. Pink Pepper gin with Mediterranean tonic, garnished with lavender. Kind of made having to mingle with cool young people worth it.
DD: If you like fun and gin, go to Graphic Bar, you’ll enjoy it.
Bar 5: Bar Termini, 10:10pm
EC: I was drunk by this point.
DD: Drunk? On the way there you declared “I am battered” and had a gigglefit.
EC: It was Leon’s fault. He brought miniatures for the walk.
DD: Nothing like a tiny bottle of Benedictine for a cross-Soho stroll.
EC: So tiny, yet so lethal.
DD: Like you.
EC: Only if you try to take my mini bottle of Benedictine off me.
DD: Bar Termini was much more my scene. Simple, small, understated. Been there forever and does what it does well.
EC: Yeah. Termini is run by Tony Conigliaro, who’s pretty famous in the drinks scene. He’s known for his very cool bars and his negronis, so I had a negroni.
DD: I can’t palate the negroni. It's the cocktail equivalent of trying to cancel your gym membership: a bitter, pointless endeavour.
EC: My other dirty secret is that I don't like negronis that much. I’m bitter enough without having campari thrown into the mix.
DD: It’s like drinking a decade-long dispute between neighbouring countries.
EC: As far as negronis go, this was the best one I’ve ever had. But that’s like saying Stalin is your favourite dictator. He was still a dictator, and this was still a negroni.
DD: I had the Marsala Martini, which was served with a pickled almond. I enjoyed it a lot. My knack for picking well balanced, clean cocktails was my saving grace. Also, it was so strong I both found and lost religion while drinking it.
EC: I tried yours and it was so strong it made it into the handful of memories I have from the latter half of the night.
DD: By the time we left I had a nice warm buzz. Tipsy and toasty.
EC: I was well and truly fucked.
Bar 6: The Gin Parlour and Salon at Mr Fogg’s Tavern, 10:45pm
DD: I loved this place. It’s themed on Around the World in 80 Days. So much whimsy!
EC: I remember there being whimsy. I don’t remember much else.
DD: I loved the cocktail I had. A genuine, eight-cocktail-deep love. The Inspector Fix's Fix, which was spicy and lemon-sour and sweet and I might go get one on my lunch break.
EC: Oh, there was a man in a top hat.
DD: There was. He liked you. Had a bit of a flirt.
EC: I can only imagine what the response from me was. Please don’t tell me. I’d rather not know.
DD: He asked if you had a gentleman. And you thought he asked if you were a gentleman. That exchange pretty much killed the chemistry.
EC: Oh god. I remember this. I replied, “Hahaha, no no, I don’t have a penis.” Form an orderly queue, gents.
DD: More like cockfail. Anyway, flirting with be-hatted men aside, what did you have?
EC: I think I had something called a Dram-a Through the Ginoculars. But that’s only because I have a very blurry photo of that menu page on my phone. I have no recollection of what it tasted like. You know what I do remember the taste of? These tiny little sausage slices in a bowl they gave us. They. Were. Incredible.
DD: I'm surprised you still had full use of your faculties at this stage. You were mostly shouting at Leon, telling him to order his martini "Navy-strength". He did not want a Navy-strength martini.
EC: Yes he did, he just didn’t realise it.
DD: What he realised was that drunk Emma takes no shit.
Bar 7: Opium, 11:30pm
EC: I am so proud I made it this far.
DD: I’m proud of you for making it up all those stairs. Opium has many stairs.
EC: So many stairs. If you want your booze at Opium, you have to work for it.
DD: I was relatively sound of mind at this stage, so I’ll start by saying: Wow. I’d never been to Opium and it is a vast cavern of hidden delights, full of corners and cocktails, nooks and crannies.
EC: Opium is another of my favourite bars. I’m beginning to suspect I’m too enthusiastic about how I describe bars I like.
DD: Based entirely on my trick of picking the cocktail by name, I went for the Journalist, which was similar to the Inspector Fix's Fix, but without the spice. Lemony, tart, good sweet/bitter mix, served clean. Super drinkable. If I hadn’t been 10 cocktails deep, I’d have had another five.
EC: By this point, I was relying on homing-pigeon-type drinking instincts. I couldn’t read the menu properly, so I just ordered a martinez, my go-to drink.
DD: You literally had one sip, ate a dim sum or two, and then disappeared. I didn’t hear from you for another 14 hours, 'til Saturday afternoon.
EC: Eating dim sum is my major memory from here. Sweet, delicious dim sum. It tasted like manna from heaven.
DD: Where did you go?
EC: That’s sweet how you think I know that information.
DD: Your friend Cara had turned up and so I left her to find you. Apparently you do that.
EC: It’s my party trick. Consume seven cocktails in quick succession, then pull an Irish goodbye.
EC: Despite everything, I remain incredibly proud of the fact that I survived until the end, and managed to at least semi-keep up with Dan, who I think might be the human embodiment of a mountain, and Leon, who is drinks industry, aka a functioning alcoholic. Both of whom were pretty much fine by the end of the night.
DD: It was fun, but the format left little time to really enjoy the bars, most of which I’ll definitely visit again. It was a great way to get a whistle-stop tour of Soho gin joints, but maybe I’d stick to one or two next time.
EC: Agreed. This was fun, but it was definitely whistle-stop. It felt like we just had enough time to sit down before we had to leave for the next one. I’d cut this down to four to five bars, max. Also, picking your drinking buddies carefully is important. You’re going to be getting very, very drunk with this person. For someone who was drinking gin under duress, Dan was a very good partner in crime.
DD: And yes, I found some gin drinks I like. But can we drink whisky next time?
EC: Yes. Old Fashioneds ahoy.