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129 City Road, London EC1V 1JB
SHOREDITCH’S BASEMENT BURROW OF ’20S GLITZ, GLAMOUR AND JAZZ IS NOW FIVE YEARS OLD, so less the plucky fledgling, more the wise owl of London’s bar scene. Half a decade perched in the canopy of the global bar industry means Nightjar is one of The World’s 50 Best Bars all-time achievers. Its rise was immediate – a year after launching in 2010 it flew to 18th position in the list and hasn’t fallen any lower than third in the four years since.
Nightjar performs a rare trick. It appeals to the public and trade alike. Indeed, come from Sunday-Wednesday and you’ll likely see more familiar industry faces, while the public tend to flock on Thursday-Saturday. Now live bands are installed every night of the week, with triple sets on Friday and Saturday. If you want to book a table at the weekend, you’d better have had that thought six weeks prior. This is one busy bar.
Nightjar has a speakeasy blueprint but very much its own style. Prohibition-era yes, but razzle-dazzle drinks that speak only of bar manager Marian Beke’s inimitable style. The menu remains split into pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, post-war (mostly tiki) and signature serves, but every year the line-up is changed and now sharing cocktails and low-abv drinks have entered the repertoire.
Here ingredients are treated with reverence, with staff taking twice-weekly trips to the market after their shift at 5am. The bar even has its own scooter to aid the urban foraging. When a man as exacting as Beke needs an exotic ingredient at a moment’s notice, someone better be putting on a crash helmet.
On the menu cards – playing cards, actually – this year are cocktails that include plankton, marigold, tobacco sugar, squid ink and bee pollen. How Nightjar’s bartenders remember the method for making all 48 cocktails is anybody’s guess, yet somehow they do – and each comes out immaculately dressed. A lot is down to what happens before the doors open, with all Beke’s staff doing the nine-hour prep on rotation. That’s a lot of chopping – but those world-famous garnishes don’t make themselves.
Others have tried to mimic Nightjar but, as Beke says, “a bar has to have a soul”. The place he runs for owners Rosie Stimpson and Edmund Weil certainly has that. Little sister bar Oriole, which will be run by Beke’s no.2 Luca Cinalli, has a lot to live up to if it wants to fly to Nightjar’s giddy heights.