It was on all accounts a rather unspectacular evening in London when we emerged from Old Street tube into a moonlit darkness. The rain was falling from the sky in large, thumping drops and the traffic circled around the roundabout unrelentingly.
My husband led me by the hand shivering and umbrella-less to a secret doorway, wedged between two old cafés, and guarded by a sturdy doorman in a shiny black suit. I peeked into the dark, dark doorway and saw some dark, dark stairs, leading to all kinds of dark, dark mystery. After what seemed like an eternity, we were guided slowly down the stairs and my birthday surprise awaited me.
The door opened and I entered a beautiful, opulent and intimate bar from another time that momentarily took my breath away. I was in the Nightjar and my evening of old-school glamour began right then and there.
It was hard to know what to glance at first - the low panelled ceilings dripping with glowing lamps, vintage clocks, and Art Deco prints. We were taken to our table where we slipped into soft, brown leather seats and were greeted by a beautiful waitress in black. We were given delicate bowls of salty popcorn to nibble on, which although at first appeared to be a kind gesture in reality turned out to be a devilishly clever as our mouths were left parched and in need of an immediate beverage. This came in the form of iced water infused with watermelon which tasted like bubblegum, in long glasses decorated with nightjars.
On an intimate corner stage, the bands played traditional jazz and blues and swing. Miss Wednesday Gray and her band were my personal favourites - a luscious lead singer with a velvety voice and a white flower in her hair supported by a dapper band. When she crooned On the Sunny Side of the Street into an old-fashioned ribbon microphone this perfectly set the scene for the prohibition speak easy style. Live music against the shaking of the cocktail shaker by waiters in braces really did set the scene.
Nightjar is a very intimate establishment and so we were wedged comfortably between two neighbouring tables - to our right a jovial but elusive gang of Shoreditchians and to our left two sleek, glamorous girls with a Kardashian edge and no wish to make eye contact despite the fact I was nearly sitting on one of their laps. With people watching dispensed it was time to review the baroque gold spun drinks menu, after all, we were here to taste the cocktails and say what the heck to abstention.
The cocktails are concisely categorised by era - Pre-Prohibition (1600-1918) , Prohibition (1918-1932) and Post-War (1940-2000) with some signature cocktails thrown in for good measure. Being partial to anything infused with vanilla, I opted for a seductive Plantation Potion - a giddy concoction of Pamper Anejo Especial Rum, Vanilla, Coffee Infusion, Cherry, Prune, Orange Infusion, Muscovado sugar and Champagne. It glistened in an elegantly tall glass, an amber potion with a blackberry which seemed to be suspended in mid-air but was held in place with a piece of twirly, smoky wood. Alex selected a Boxcar for his first cocktail - Tanqueray Ten Gin, Cointreau, NightJar Grenadine, Fresh Squeezed Lime and Egg White. It appeared as if by magic, frosted with crunchy sugar and accompanied by grenadine in a broken egg-shell.
As the night went on, we made our way through the menu, Zazarec with Appleton Estate 8 Year Rum, Pimento Smoke and Chocolate Bitters and a Cupcake with Prosecco and Roasted Melon juice. They are eye-watering, taste-bud tingling elixirs of deliciousness - drinks sprinkled with coffee beans and decorated with bird shaped lemon peel. Scents of wood chips, cocoa, honey and coffee surround you as you imbibe.
The alchemy of Nightjar is not simply delicious cocktails - it's the infusion of smooth music, decadent drinking glasses and delicate tables placed intimately together to invite conversation and booze-soaked laughter. It takes you right back, that old feeling, the good old days. By the end of the evening, we were laughing along with the Kardashians one of whom had a whole pine cone floating in her cocktail, and conversing with the trendy young man from Shoreditch who sipped a citrus infusion from an Art Deco glass with a superfluous but dainty scorched half a pear. As I took in the sights and sounds around me, listened dreamily to the band playing The Nearness of You and asked politely if I could sniff the empty pear half in his glass, I realised we were absolutely inebriated. It was time to leave and make our way, rather wobbly, back up the stairs and back to the year 2012.
I would highly recommend Nightjar to anyone old or new to London, who wishes to experience something out of the ordinary, somewhere where you can forget who you are, where you are and the year you live in, even just for an evening. Which is easily achieved with a San Telmo Swizzle and Champagne Flip or two.