While wandering in the wilds of Islington the other week, trying to find things to fill the time between work and a gig (by the mighty A, supported by some people I don’t remember and the rather good Stars of the Search Party) I did a quick search on the Randomness Guide to London and decided to try out Slim Jim’s Liquor Store.
One of the things I really like about the US is the overwhelming feeling that bartender is a respected profession. Over here, for the most part, working in a bar is merely a stop gap or work considered to be almost unskilled, but on the other side of the pond they consider the job almost a calling and often work to make themselves great bartenders. We get professional barmen over here (my brother is one, even if he is currently splitting his time between standing behind a bar with the standing on the other side that we call ‘being a student’), but it’s a lot less common and this makes me a sad panda.
Anyways, this being an american styled dive bar I thought I might be in with a chance, and I was pleasantly surprised. The barman was obviously in for the long haul and the light smattering of customers at 7pm leant it a vibe that I’ve felt in some of my favourite dingy drinking dens in the US – a businessman with a Martini, a couple of beardy guys with a brace of beers each and a couple of people chatting conspiratorially in a booth: it was what I was looking for. I propped myself up at the bar and had a riffle through the drinks menu – other than the beer taps, bottles of spirits on the back bar and a seemingly random array of empty beer and soda bottles on a high shelf (which I’m sure they can’t have had all of, but they may have) there are no drinks on display as they have rather brutal looking metal fronted fridges. With a quick run down the cocktail menu I settled for my cocktail of choice at home – the Manhattan, at about £6.50. It was at this point that the cracks started to show. I will admit that it was not a bad Manhattan, for one where the bartender forgets to add bitters, one of the only three ingredients and slightly disappointing after the menu specifically mentions Peychaud’s being used rather than the usual Angostura. It was quite pleasant but missed that very slight spiciness that the bitters bring to the mix.
I decided to move on to whiskey, as they had a fairly good selection. I’ve recently discovered that I quite like the different taste of rye whiskey, so after having some of the standard Rittenhouse Rye in my Manhattan I decided to go for the Rittenhouse 100. It was nice – quite smooth and quite definitely a rye. It came in at £3.60 a shot as well, so not too bad.
While I sipped I had a look over the rest of the menu and started to become dismayed. Their scotch selection was quite good, although their spelling of the whisky names wasn’t, with 5 of the 17 choices in the ‘Single Malt and Scotch’ section spelled incorrectly. I can understand “Bow More”, but “Ruichladdich” and “Johnnie Walker Balck”? It got even worse with the american whisky section – titled ‘Bourbons’. I know I’m slightly pedantic on such things, but for a whisky bar to lump Rye, Tenessee and Bourbon whisky all under the heading of Bourbons seems more than slightly careless and doesn’t inspire confidence in the knowledge of the bar staff or owners. The cocktail section does seem to be fairly traditional though, with simple old versions of most of the recipes, rather than reworkings claiming to be ‘the original’ as I’ve found in a bunch of places.
As I sat there shaking my head in slightly pretentious shame the next bout of customers walked in and I understood why the barman, and his newly arrived buddy, looked so down. 3 or 4 couples walked in over the next 15 minutes and all asked the same question – “What wine do you have?”. Each time the barman explained that as a whisky and cocktail bar they didn’t have much of a selection, but that didn’t stop each new punter asking if he had specific wine that he obviously didn’t. Each time someone harrumphed and ‘made do’ with whatever wine he actually had I could see him die a little inside. I settled up and while I finished up my drink both barmen disappeared downstairs into what I assume is the kitchen and didn’t come out until I was leaving. Poor boys.
In visual atmosphere it was just right, with a stack of bottles behind the bar, low lights (with a candle moved closer to me by the barman so that I could read my book), a few neon signs, some AC/DC banners, stools at the bar and booths around the edges. On a decent busy night I suspect it’ll be quite a nice place, especially later in the evening, but on a quiet evening with Islington drinkers not entirely getting the place slowly destroying the barman’s will to live it’s not so good. And they need someone who can splel.
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