JSM Bar & Leisure has opened Asian-inspired bar and restaurant Blind Tiger in Liverpool. Photography by Andy Haslam
A sleeping tiger has awoken in a basement among the bars and clubs of Liverpool’s Seel Street. A space once used by a martial arts “dojo” club, it remained derelict for some time until entrepreneur Peter Kane came upon it. This summer, it burst back into life as Blind Tiger, a late-night bar and dim sum restaurant.
As creative director of operator JSM Bar & Leisure, Peter refers to the new venture as an “Asian speakeasy”. Working with leading hospitality design practice Snook Architects, they have developed an interior with a strong Asian-style palette of rich colours, patterns and textures. They also looked to the famous poem, “Tiger, tiger burning bright in the forests of the night”, by William Blake.
“After looking at the space for some time and assessing its potential, the idea of an Asian speakeasy just fell into place as the obvious concept,” Peter says. “Because of the history of the basement as the famous Hung Gar School of Kung Fu, I realised it makes perfect sense.” For the launch in June, the school’s “sifu”, Stephen Ornellas, returned with other pupils for a ceremonial performance to bring luck to the new venture.
The basement space has been split into different areas, from a reception at the front to private alcoves, a Zen-like urban outdoor courtyard and a private guest-list entrance. There is also a performance stage for live music Friday to Sunday. The interior fuses Asian-style design with Liverpool’s industrial heritage, with exposed brick walls and steel work detailing. “The furnishings and décor, used to soften the raw materiality, are suggestive of the Asian theme without being overly ‘oriental’ to attempt to avoid the clichéd interpretation of an Asian eatery,” explains Neil Dawson of Snook Architects.
They remodelled the basement space and added heavy steel support portals to carry the party wall on the above floors which provided an opportunity to create a carved-out bar area. Lighting includes vintage-style industrial Brooklyn Giant Bell metal pendants from Industville with antique shades and holders in brass. “The design unfolds as you are led from the entrance reception area,” Neil adds. “As you enter the space, the Asian speakeasy vibe is palpable with the rich colours and warmth of material.”
The drinks list is equally rich in colours and flavours, developed by Daniel Cunningham, formerly at nearby bars Alma de Cuba and 81 Ltd. Along with classics such as a Singapore Sling and a French 75, the menu offers a range of original cocktails grouped under the Asian-inspired headings of strength, elegance, contrast and harmony. Popular drinks include the Asian Salvation, made with Beefeater London Dry Gin, lychee liqueur, crème de mûre, pineapple juice and lime juice, and the Old Siam, combining Opihr spiced gin with Thai basil-infused sake, dry vermouth and Miracle Mile Yuzu Bitters, garnished with a kaffir lime leaf.
The refreshing, floral Hung Gar Hendrick’s mixes the gin with St-Germain elderflower liqueur, peach liqueur, lime juice and cucumber slices with a garnish of fresh mint. There is also a good selection of sake and umeshu plum wine plus a wide range of Japanese whiskies including many expressions from Nikka.
The drinks are designed to complement the food, developed by Steven Burgess, co-founder of Liverpool’s Camp & Furnace restaurant and bar and head of outdoor catering specialist Rhubarb & Custard. The menu features a selection of steamed Gua Bao buns as well as dim sum such as a mixed vegetable gyozas and Shanghai-style pork dumplings with ginger soy. Main courses include sticky belly pork ribs, vegetable pad thai and Japanese chicken karaage with Togarashi pepper spice and fresh coriander aioli.
Both kitchen and bar are open late, with a licence to 2am, keeping the party going seven days a week. Peter, who is also creative director of Liverpool’s Brooklyn Mixer and Grove Beer Tap & Grill, says Blind Tiger has been embraced as both a dim sum diner and a cocktail destination. “Our mission statement is to share a love of good food and beer, excellent cocktails and live music and combine these elements into a cool and outstanding experience in a unique location.”
Blind Tiger, 71 Seel Street, Liverpool L1 4AZ
Tel: 0151 707 3662
Behind the scenes
Design: Snook Architects
Lighting: Industville, Andy Thornton
Stone: Prestige Granite
Mirrors: LF Moon
Artwork: Dead One
Sinks, taps: Zest Bathrooms
Structural engineering: Gravitate Consulting
Originally published in the October 2015 print edition of Bar magazine.