In the very heart of London, set beneath the elegant streets of Pimlico, is the cosy but cool Clarendon Cocktail Cellar. Tucked away from sight, this 19th century townhouse basement was originally used as a pub cellar. Now with a new lease of life, this Victorian store-room has been transformed into a stylish mini establishment with a unique atmosphere, capturing the discreet ambience of a 1920s speakeasy.
My friend, Stephanie, and I were immediately greeted at the doorway of the hotel and shown down the winding stairs until we reached the cellar itself. We had battled a particularly stormy London evening, and so were very grateful to be seated and be removed from our sodden coats. Our host for the evening was the welcoming and knowledgeable Stephen Ruse, the bar manager and expert mixologist who had devised the inviting collection of cocktails on the menu.
The Cocktail Cellar opts for quality over quantity, serving seven art-inspired cocktails that you are guaranteed to find nowhere else. Each cocktail had its ingredients printed onto the back of a circular beer mat, with the particular piece of art that it was named after and inspired by on the back.
Our first choices were the ‘Mona Lisa’ and the wordy ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’. The Mona Lisa combined Rye, Vermouth and Barolo Chinato with Coffee Infused Cognac and Walnut Bitters – an unusual combination that delivers a delightful coffee and walnut kick. The ‘Sunday Afternoon’ concoction named after the Georges Seurat painting included Gin, Lemon, Oleo Saccharum, Tea, Sparkling and Tapioca Pearl. Stephen informed us that the bubbles created by the tapioca pearl symbolises the small dots used to compose the painting.
As we sipped away we took the opportunity to examine the interiors of the cellar further; exposed brickwork on all four walls, a curved corrugated iron bar and low industrial lighting contrasted the red leather bar stools, neon light fittings, gold panelled ceiling, and pop art style images adorning the walls. To the right of us was a very inconspicuous little entrance way which led into a very intimate candle-lit seating area. This private nook looked ideal for those desiring a more secluded setting.
Freshly made popcorn was brought to our table in between drinks – admittedly we got through the bowl quite quickly, but thankfully our attentive host was happy to replenish it for us. Our next choices included the woody flavour of the ‘Lake McArthur, Yoho Park’; a blend of Gold Rum, Islay Scotch, Maple and Lemon – and the frothy ‘Beer Street’ and Gin Lane featuring, among others, Gin, Orange Bitters and Egg White, presented in a tankard. Both were delectable.
It was a tough decision to exchange the warm, welcoming ambience of the Cocktail Cellar for the cold and blustery London outdoors, but as it neared closing time we bid farewell to a fantastic evening. I could only feel envious of the lucky guest of the Artist Residence above, with access to such a hidden gem. The Clarendon Cocktail cellar is a trove of old-world elegance and charm with a genuinely passionate team at the helm creating the most deliciously unique cocktails – the perfect refuge from these chilling winter nights.
Clarendon Cocktail Cellar
Beneath The Cambridge Street, 52 Cambridge Street, London, SW1V 4QQ