There is a constant struggle in the cocktail world between the comforts of tradition and the surprises of innovation. Although this struggle is most violent in the creation of a cocktail itself, it extends to every other aspect: service, setting, presentation and so on. For a time I had resigned myself to the fact that tradition had won over innovation in the arena of setting. Although mood is important, I was not going to let the foresee ability of speakeasies with their mustachioed, vested mixologists detract from legitimately good cocktails. So, when I heard that Zetter Townhouse in London was housed in a back lot with a nondescript door, I sighed and readied myself for the speakeasy experience one more time.
However, when I pushed open the simple white door and stepped through the curtain into the bar, I was unprepared for the flowery, scarlet sitting room stretching out in front of me. Chaise lounges and plush armchairs with doilies clustered around coffee tables scattered around the room. The bar itself is an almost an afterthought with stools for four (five if you’re okay with getting cozy).
Photo: Jefferson Smith www.thezettertownhouse.com
This was not the first surprise of the evening. The cocktail menu is the brainchild of Tony Conigliaro of whom I will speak more in a few upcoming posts. An homage to the distilling history of this region of London (the old resting place of the original Beefeater distillery) is combined with a revitalization of a few forgotten cocktails and an emphasis on aromatics.
One highlight has to be their wonderful take on the Bloody Mary including horseradish infused vodka, pepper distillate, and house Tabasco sauce. It takes everything you need out of a Bloody Mary: thick mouthfeel, savory umami flavor (from miso that they blend with their tomato juice!), and a pleasant spicy warmth; while leaving behind everything you hate in bad Bloody Marys: nasty pepper grit, a watery weakness from poor tomato juice.
In almost every single one of their drinks, there is at least one house ingredient. You can tell that Tony Conigliaro has a strong interest in making drinks exactly the way he wants them. Sadly, this means many of the drinks are not easily recreatable for the home mixologist. Although a port reduction (from their Master at Arms) is conceivable, I certainly would not attempt to recreate the delicate citrus aromatic bitters that go into their Köln Martini. Every one of their drinks uses these house ingredients to highlight the most important aspect of a Tony C cocktail: the scent.
When I first ventured to Zetter Townhouse, the great bartenders there, Mike and Will, allowed me to steal one of their ideas. To really get the full Conigliaro experience, it was necessary to visit every single one of his bars. Zetter Townhouse and 69 Colebrooke Row in London and Bar Le Coq in Paris. And not just to visit them eventually, but to do it all in one night. In the next installment of Drink Everywhere: Conigliaro Edition, we travel from Zetter Townhouse to 69 Colebrooke Row to continue a night of Conigliaro cocktails and further explore Tony C’s focus on scent in cocktail creation.
Ever been to ZTH? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.