Imagine a place where you can drink a free-flowing number of cocktails, for a fixed and marginal fee. Imagine a bar where you don’t have to queue to quench your thirst, but instead get offered a colourful array of refreshing drinks on a continuous basis, waited on at your very own table. Imagine a club hidden away in the depths of hustley bustley Covent Garden, which can seat just 20 people at a squeeze; 20 ‘in-the-know’ people, who all care about the experience just as much as they do about the drink itself. And all this, manned by one of the most inspired mixologists in the country, with an infectious passion for creating bespoke cocktails on the spot.
Well you don’t have to imagine all this anymore, because (in case you hadn’t already guessed) this mythological place actually already exists.
BYOC – which stands for Bring Your Own Cocktail – is a new and unique cocktail experience, blossoming at the heart of Covent Garden. You’ll find it hidden away down some steep stairs beneath the fresh and busy daytime ‘Juice Club’, though the ambiance down those stairs couldn’t really be much more different. It’s a totally different world. The room is 1920s styled, with little wooden tables, a grainy 1920s record playing in the background, and a waistcoated, smiling mixologist to-ing and fro-ing between his customers and an old laden juice trolley.
The whole idea behind BYOC is that you bring along a bottle or two of your favourite spirits (meaning that The Juice Club don’t have to fork out for an extortionately-priced alcohol licence), whilst they supply all the fresh juices, herbs, ingredients and knowledge to make you an ever-flowing waterfall of the most creative cocktails out there…
So – after all the online hype – we finally got our acts together and went to BYOC on Saturday night. We weren’t really sure where it was situated, as it looked very different from the outside as it did from the pictures we’d seen of the inside, though a fellow drinker waved us into the building whilst we were quizzically standing outside. The large, sealed bottles of rum and vodka that we were casually swinging along by our sides must have given us away. We were people on a mission.
Handing over a crisp £20 note each (our ‘corkage’, as it were), and brandishing our bottles once more, we were shown down the stairs by a very smiley lady. As soon as we entered the tiny room, we were transported into the past. Gavin, our smartly-dressed mixologist, then approached us, eyeing up the bottles we’d brought in. Sadly, we hadn’t picked any particularly risqué spirits to put Gavin to the test, though some have been known to bring challenging foreign drinks or bizarrely-flavoured liquors to the table. Once he’d had a quick perve on our drink stash, he was then able to use his creativity to whip up (from scratch) whatever he felt we would enjoy.
“Right, you need something refreshing to start you off,” he said. “How about a…a ‘Yellow Pepper’. That’s made with Vodka, lemon, a hint of vanilla, apple, egg whites – you’re ok with egg whites, right?! – some yellow pepper, and a lovely dash of rosewater. How would that work for you?”
We told him it’d work very nicely, thank you, and he retreated to his trolley in the corner of the room to mix it up, before returning to our table to pour a lug of our vodka into the shaker. He then shook it around, poured a dribble into a side glass and took a sip, proclaiming it to be “delicious”, before pouring our portions into two iced glasses, and another side-glass for top-ups. The cocktail itself was sensational, and helped us to relax into the experience.
We had paid for a ‘2 hour stint’. From 8pm-10pm, we would be drinking non-stop cocktails. They apparently cap the number at 8 cocktails maximum, but we only got through 6 in the end, due to incessant talking, constant top-ups of the 6 in question, and time flying by at an unfair pace. The cocktails themselves included all sorts of interesting ingredients, including basil, rosewater, elderflower, beetroot, orange blossom, pepper and so-on. None were similar, all were dangerously moreish.
The tables in the room were very close to each other, so chatting to your neighbours was a common (and refreshingly easy) thing to do. Our neighbours also offered us a try of their alcohol (to shake up our cocktail experience that bit more), and it soon became apparent that switching and swapping spirits is a completely acceptable thing to do at BYOC. You’re all there for the experience, after all, and the whole atmosphere is quite ‘Supper Clubby’ and sociable.
Even the loo was brilliant. I had to awkwardly manoeuvre myself past a couple of tables and Gavin’s dramatically curtained fridge before making it there alive, but once inside the fun continued, with chalk pieces and boards all over the walls, enabling customers to express their gratitude in the most eloquent (and slightly drunken) of ways.
Overall, it was an incredibly well thought-out and smooth-running experience. The Juice Club doesn’t have an expensive alcohol permit, so customers bring their own, and pay £20 for the mixers, the friendly, knowledgeable staff and the casual, happy atmosphere. “You’re crazy to pay £20 for nothing, when you then have to pay for and bring your own alcohol on top of that,” a couple of my friends said to me before I went. Now that I’ve been, I know what to say in response. For this was an incredibly well-spent £20, especially when you consider that you usually spend roughly £12 per cocktail in central London. And these cocktails were, in my opinion, better than those of the ECC, or even Mark’s Bar. It’s a no-brainer.
The only problem is when it comes to actually booking. I’d booked a few months in advance (via email), but the largest tables are for 6, and they’re booked up for months and months (which bodes well). So if you want to pop your name down and get a place at the most up-and-coming cocktail bar in London, email firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. Words can’t describe how worth it it’ll be. Nor could I, after I had stumbled up the steep steps and out into the fresh air, right back to a slightly blurry reality.
Check out http://www.byoc.co.uk/ for more details..