Bitter Sweet, London

Back in the 1960s, The Pinstripe Club was a hangout for the likes of Oliver Reed, Peter O’Toole and Marilyn Monroe before being closed in the wake of the Profumo Scandal as the place where Christine Keeler met her Russian spy. More recently, the Soho site was The Kingly Club, Dezzi Mc Causland’s iconic members’ club, known for its cosy booths and cocktails. Now it is in the hands of CG Restaurants & Bars, the owners of London’s Dirty Martini bars and Tuttons and Fire & Stone restaurants. With a new look, it has been reborn as Bitter Sweet, a more inclusive cocktail bar.

Tucked away in Kingly Court off Carnaby Street, it has a contemporary, stylish new interior designed by bar specialist Darren Grapes of Grapes Design. Aware of its history, he set out to “put back the former soul of the venue”, with exquisite details and bespoke textures creating the illusion of an exclusive members’ club.

The entrance is a bronze sculpted vault, washed by LED lighting, with rustic metallic tiling and copper light fittings, leading through to the main lounge. The focus here is the bespoke illuminated artwork, reflected in the polished porcelain tiles. The areas are defined by aluminium laser-cut screens, while two arches lead into chic private vaults, each with its own exclusive furniture and intimate lighting. The new illuminated bar features a glass tiered bottle display, where each bottle is placed on a light source, casting light effects onto the curved polished plaster lining the vaulted ceiling.

The drinks list includes a section inspired by the bar’s name, with bitter and sweet cocktails alongside other classic and signature cocktails. On the bitter side is the Bitter Zesty, made with Plymouth Gin shaken with Martini Extra Dry vermouth, pink grapefruit, egg white, caster sugar and grapefruit bitters, while the Bitter Sweet Iced Tea combines grapefruit and lemon juice with Plymouth Gin and orgeat syrup, lengthened with breakfast tea.

On the sweet side, there is the Bon Bon Cerise, made with crème de cerise and crème de cacao, topped with prosecco and served in a champagne flute, or the Vanilla Monk – a decadent mix of vanilla vodka, Frangelico and Kahlúa shaken with fresh cream and served in a coupe. The drinks have been devised by general manager Matt Quick and assistant general manager Simon Formichi, who both came over from Dirty Martini in Hanover Square.

Happy hour is an important part of the offering, running from 5pm to 10pm Sunday to Thursday and 5pm to 8pm Saturdays. During this time, cocktails and bottles of wine are half price and there is £10 off bottles of champagne. “It is a much more complex cocktail list than you would normally get for a happy hour,” Matt adds.

Bitter Sweet is run separately from Dirty Martini cocktail bars in Hanover Square and Covent Garden and, if successful, could be developed into another brand for CG Restaurants & Bars. “Bitter Sweet is brighter and more contemporary than Dirty Martini,” Matt says. “It’s a relaxing place to chill out after work and gets more clubby later but still very cocktail led.”

Bitter Sweet is open from 5pm seven days a week, until 3am Thursday to Saturday and till 1am Sunday to Wednesday.

Because of historic licensing regulations, it has to remain officially a members’ club from 9pm but, before that time, it is open to anybody. However, membership is free and, even after 9pm, people can sign up on the night for temporary membership. Member benefits include priority entry, invitations to exclusive events and cocktail tastings, a free cocktail of the month and a “birthday treat”.

“We don’t see it as a traditional members’ club,” Matt insists. “We are trying to keep it more friendly than that and do something fresh. To reinvent such an iconic venue in Carnaby Street is an incredible opportunity. We’re offering customers a fun and glamorous night out in intimate surroundings with an impressive cocktail list.”

Bitter Sweet, 4 Kingly Court, Soho, London W1B 5PW Tel: 0844 371 2550

Originally published in the November 2012 edition of Bar magazine.

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