“No. no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.” – Lewis Carroll.
The Looking Glass is a loosely themed cocktail bar based in Shoreditch. As you’ve probably guessed, it nods to the mystical and adventurous world created by Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of the most famous and enduring children’s classics, with the novel itself full of whimsical charm and a feeling for the absurd that is unsurpassed. The Looking Glass has taken a risk – it must try and avoid being too gimmicky and live up to the idea we all hold in our thoughts when thinking of Wonderland.
The bar has been described as ‘a parallel universe with cosy, lavish interiors and eccentric British cocktails like you’ve never tasted before’. The interior was minimalist and contained a collection of lavish based furniture (further research suggests Louis XVI-inspired?!) which equally serves small to medium groups or chilled out couples. However, arrive at busier times, you can slip through a hidden door (yes, by this point I had not realised the link with the bar name and the huge mirror at the back of the bar) and you are then confronted with a much larger space – though less intimate – complete with a longer bar, DJ booth and dance floor.
Thankfully we visited on that lesser known drinking day of Tuesday. Whilst this had its obvious drawbacks, Wednesday morning regret aside, the bar was pretty empty and the only atmosphere was through the music being played through the stereo. Thankfully the space we sat in felt intimate and the lack of crowds actually added to the cosy feeling the bar was looking to achieve. Now came the most difficult choice, what to order?
For our first choice, Sarah opted for a ‘Bandersnatch’; a vanilla, kaffir lime and thyme infused Absolut vodka, blended perfectly with lavender, green cardamon and mint bitters, as dash of apricot brandy and lashings of Prosecco. Whilst this sounds like an over-complicated drink, I am assured the flavours were well rounded and were balanced nicely for a refreshing drink.
I decided on a ‘Cheers Ted’; a whisky cocktail based on the sazerac style. The twist – and what makes this drink so special – is that it’s made with a tobacco liqueur, the effect of which led to a smoky after taste that combined nicely with the whisky and stayed on the palate for just long enough to ensure depth of the drink.
After this drink, as it was quiet, we took the opportunity to sit at the bar and have a conversation with our barman; Nick. We discovered he was from Italy and enjoyed swapping stories about our own travels and his. At this point we started getting a little creative with our drink choices and let Nick give us an impromptu cocktail course on how to make these drinks. His passion and enthusiasm for the perfect drink is something to be admired as he mixed up a selection of drinks for us off menu. The pièce de résistance of this is when Nick produced the smoking machine to create his own version of a smoked Manhattan. Whilst the complexity of this drink cannot be described by mere words, I will have to settle with the word YUM.
Through the course of the night, one feels that the barmen of the Looking Glass are never more at home than when they are playing with drink concepts, punning or messing around with drink flavours and creating a bit of theatre.
Perhaps it is this playfulness that will help ensure it success in time to come. In my simple thoughts, it can only be described as brilliant. The Looking Glass is a wonderful place to take a brief respite from our over-rational and sometimes dreary world.