Zoe Fryday visits Heads + Tails, West Hampstead’s new ‘bar of contrasts’
One of the biggest challenges of opening a bar is finding a space to perfectly encapsulate the initial concept. However, in the case of Heads + Tails, a new contemporary cocktail destination in laid-back, village like West Hampstead, the concept actually stemmed from the venue itself. With years of combined industry expertise under their belt, Will Partridge and Chris Dennis set out to cultivate a new wave of stylish drinking spaces in the area, observing bright prospects for innovation and a gap for something truly special. “We found a venue that had loads of potential and the concept just evolved naturally from it,” explains Will. “We wanted to strip the site back to its bare bones and then accentuate the natural elements left remaining.”
Architecturally, the site presented various juxtaposing spaces and features. The ground floor, with its high ceiling, large open shopfront and garden access, felt bright, open and airy while the basement had a different feel due to the lack of natural light and lower ceiling height. This inspired Will and Chris’ vision to create a ‘bar of contrasts’.
The dual nature of Heads + Tails encompasses everything – from its name, branding and interior design through to its ingeniously linked drinks and cocktail menus. Formerly home to one of West Hampstead’s longest standing nightspots Lately, the site is split across two levels; Heads, the open-plan ground floor bar, is clear, crisp and naturally bright, characterised by new fully-glazed shopfront and full width windows, a light, pastel colour palette and materials such as white terrazzo and brass. A refreshing selection of cocktails, gin, wine and aperitvo drinks are served from a generous statement marble bar, which is embellished with gold, greenery and glass.
Downstairs, Tails bestows a dark, atmospheric basement bar, specialising in whiskies and rums. A moodier and more intimate setting has been created here through the use of rich colours specified to accentuate earthier materials such as copper and wood. “There are lots of features that we love and managed to incorporate into the finished venue. It’s amazing how the choice of materials on each floor marries perfectly with their respective colour palettes,” observes Chris. “There are also a few clever design details such as our fold-down wall tables, which not only look great, but also give us the functional flexibility we wanted from the space.”
In line with the overall concept, the drinks menu has evolved naturally alongside the design, providing a dual and opposing offering. Heads serves lighter drinks with a focus on clear spirts with an aperitif feel. The Dove is currently a popular favourite on the menu. Served in a highball glass with hand-cracked ice, it blends El Gobernador Pisco, jasmine cordial, lemon, sparkling wine and apple blossom. The Tails’ cocktail menu highlights bolder flavours, taking inspiration from brown and stirred classics, centering on whisky and rum. Featuring a mix of Olmeca Altos Tequila, grapefruit sherbet, pampelle and lime, the Gloriosa Daisy sits on the rocks, garnished with fresh grapefruit, whereas the Twist of Fate, mixes Wild Turkey Bourbon, ginger and cinnamon syrup, and orange blossom water. The team contrast the drinks collection even further by providing a complementary menu in each bar – a range of low-ABV cocktails in Heads and a creative lineup of Boiler Makers in Tails.
Foremost, Will and Chris want the drinks to stand out on their own. However, they are currently trialling various charcuterie and cheese board options to enhance the flavours within the cocktails. The duo are also hoping to develop a number of street food takeovers outdoors in the main heads garden, which even has its own dedicated service hatch window from the upstairs Heads bar.
Since opening in November 2018, Heads + Tails has received praise from the local community and bar industry as a whole. “I don’t know of any other venues quite like Heads + Tails; that manages to blend two very opposing ideas into one cohesive venue,” voices Chris. “We’re still finding our feet though, and so the future holds lots of growth and development for us. As well as starting to introduce a variety of events and getting our outside spaces functioning, we also want to ensure we remain drinks- focused and continue to provide and develop unique and creative menus. We’re also working on some rather special plans for 2019 that will significantly expand our offering, but that’s top-secret and we need to keep it under-wraps for now!”
Heads + Tails, 175 West End Ln, London NW6 2LH
Behind the scenes
Interior designer: KKD, Structured Building Services
Architect: Collective Works
Flooring: Havwoods, Concept Tiles, Domus
Lighting: Northern Lights
Bespoke furniture: Structured Building Services
Garden landscaping: Steve Richards
Originally published in the January 2019 print edition of Bar magazine.