At school, and throughout most of university, we viewed cocktails as the ultimate luxury. The only time we ever drank them was on 18-30 beach holidays where they were dirt cheap, predominantly orange juice and came adorned with umbrellas and glittery cocktail sticks that we would stick in our hair in a cute and alluring way - the boys went wild - not. Back in London, spending £8 on one drink was inconceivable when you could get pissed on a bottle of Sainsbury's vodka for the same amount.
The only time we ever indulged was when a bar offered a happy hour, 2-4-1 deal. As students with nothing better to do we would arrive at 5pm and prepare ourselves for battle. Within an hour the bar was carnage, the cocktails were terrible and, by the time you’d beaten someone up to get back to your seat, were half empty and thoroughly diluted by the melted ice - they were good days.
Post-uni, the most exciting thing about my first pay check was the realisation that I could afford a decent cocktail outside of happy hour. It felt frivolous but marvellous to blow hard-earned cash on such tasty alcoholic treats. But, it wasn’t long before cocktails took on a whole new meaning and simple pleasures became complicated.
It used to be that I could name a handful of cocktails and that’s all that was needed for a good time - Mojito, Cosmopolitan, Daiquiri, Caipirinha - tried and tested combinations of sugar, citrus and alcohol, invented some time in the 1800s (so the internet says). But these days a cocktail bar isn’t worth its stripes unless it offers at least ten bizarre concoctions, each involving multiple ingredients that it will take the bearded bartender fifteen minutes to remember (or look up in a ring binder more often than not) and then drip, dab, shake, stir and bludgeon together while the queue of punters grows ever longer and more distressed.
If I ever commit a crime, suffer a raging nervous breakdown, end a relationship on the spot or brazenly wee myself in public, I’ll more than likely be queuing for a cocktail as I do it - such is the level of stress involved.
For the real deal, why not head to Nightjar near Old Street where you can sample the 'Amsterdam', a cocktail composed of Ketel One Vodka, Ale & Hemp Syrup, Grand Marnier, Tulip Essence, Lemon, Gouda Foam and Poppy & Cinnamon. Other Nightjar drinks involve the addition of 'cornflake smoke', 'mugwort herb', 'bamboo shoots', 'grilled rice powder', 'banana bread beer' and 'smoked candy floss'. I suspect these are not real things and that Nightjar has used a random words generator to create them, safe in the knowledge that no one’s going to kick up a fuss if the mugwort is missing.
Nightjar may be the most extreme example of this trend but the problem is, everyone’s at it to some extent. The people behind the trendy restaurant, Dirty Bones, are the proud creators of the “Dirty Mary”. Their website provides a description: “Rimmed with sour cream Pringles, our signature cocktail of Ketel One Vodka, tomato, lemon & pickle juices and hot sauce.”
I don't know how to put this, other than to say, that sounds proper grim mate. I love a Bloody Mary. And who doesn’t love a sour cream Pringle? Only a fool. But in a world that make sense - never the twain shall meet. I’d rather not cough up Pringle dust while I try to enjoy a restorative hangover cure. It’s bad enough that the whole debacle is already doomed by the lack of Worcestershire Sauce (or as it’s charmingly called in some foreign lands, English Sauce).
These days, when I misguidedly part company with my money and receive one of these fancy-pants drinks, I can't help but think - sure, it’s instagrammable as hell, but do I want that thing inside me? (We’re talking about cocktails here).
Call me a party pooper if you will, but the next time I’m in a cocktail bar I will eschew the menu, march straight to the bar and say, 'Make me a whisky sour please and be quick about it'. At the end of the day, I’m not rich enough to continue paying for rose-infused, willow-smoked surprises that may taste OK but may also taste like someone has picked eight incompatible ingredients and shoved them in a glass. I want alcohol, stirred with sugar and lemon, because I know it’ll taste damn good.
P.s. Dirty Bones also offers customers ‘Instagram Kits’ to help them take the pictures of their food. It includes a portable LED light, a multi-device charger, a clip-on wide-angle lens, a tripod and a selfie stick. There really is nothing for me to say.