House of Wolf, London

Apothecary Bar House of WolfFor nearly 200 years, people have been seeking pleasure at 181 Upper Street in Islington, north London. The former Hare & Hounds pub has gone through numerous incarnations in recent years, including Medicine Bar and Albert & Pearl, but it has now been reborn as a theatrical venue, House of Wolf, which combines Victorian heritage with contemporary design and cocktails.

The site, which is a Star Pubs & Bars lease, has been transformed by a team including Damian Frizzell and Jennifer Anderson-Mann who created Brighton hotspot Madame Geisha and nearby club and music venue The Haunt. They have joined forces with Matthew Fleming, former bar manager at London’s Shoreditch House and general manager at club and bar operator Proud Group.

They have restored many of the original features of the 1830s pub such as cornicing and curved lead-lined windows as well as a gold-relief hare and hounds on the building’s frontage. Designing the interiors themselves, they mix the vintage with the contemporary, collaborating with artists and designers. This includes lighting such as chandeliers made of antique cutlery and sherry glasses by designer Emerald Faerie and skull art by Lauren Baker. On a practical side, they have invested £25,000 in soundproofing that has helped to regain a late licence, allowing it to open until 4am Monday to Saturday and 2am on Sunday.

The first and second storeys have been converted into trading space, allowing them to create a series of individual rooms with a total capacity of 210 across the three floors. “We wanted each room to be different but with a common thread,” Matthew says. The ground-floor bar is a dark, decadent space called the Music Hall, with classic furnishings and an upgraded sound system including a new DJ set-up.

Stairs lead up to the Apothecary Bar (pictured top) which is inspired by a Victorian apothecary, with aged glass bottles, gas lamp-style lighting and an antique-mirrored back bar. With a capacity of 25, this is where Matthew and bar manager Stephen Quainton, formerly bar manager at Soho House, let loose their creativity with inventive cocktails. They include the Wolf Blood Vial, made with Hennessy XO cognac, Glenmorangie Astar whisky, Belvedere Orange vodka and a touch of noisette, injected with concentrated cherry reduction.

Over the Pop is described as a popcorn-infused Maker’s Mark Bourbon Sour, served in a bubble-wrapped glass with popping candy, while the Tiki, inspired by a Piña Colada, is served with an “edible beach scene” made of jellies and granita. “This is proving to be the most popular section of the building,” Matthew adds. “We are trying to keep it seated only as a lot of the drinks are quite complicated and are best appreciated if you’re sitting down.” Each month, the bar menu features a cocktail based on a customer’s dreams. “We want to take the silly side of our patrons very seriously,” Stephen says. “Drinking cocktails should be a really joyous experience and we’re here to help celebrate that.”

Attic Dining Room House of Wolf

On the second floor are three more rooms. The Parlour dining room, which looks out on a sculpture garden, has bespoke hand-printed wall coverings, vintage chandeliers, hand-carved mantelpieces and an artistic-designed feature described as a “dumb waiter cum steam punk conveyor belt”. The Attic dining room (pictured) and the Wolf Den bar feature double-height ceilings with original exposed beams alongside decadent furnishings and low wall lighting to create a snug feel. The bar is adorned with old copper distillery paraphernalia and surrounded by comfortable lounge seating.

The venue opens from 6pm Monday to Saturday, serving dinner till 11pm, and from midday on Sundays when Sunday roasts are available till 8pm. The menu changes regularly through monthly “pop-up chef residencies”, managed by Alexa Perrin, founder of the Experimental Food Society. The first of these was a collaboration between food artist Caroline Hobkinson and experimental psychologist Charles Spence, who devised a three-course multi-sensory menu, using top-quality British produce, including seasonal and foraged ingredients.

It all adds up to a venue described as a “Victorian lair for pleasure-seeking gastronomes”, combining experimental dining, drinking, art and live entertainment. Damian adds: “It is an original concept which we hope will become a truly creative addition to London’s vibrant scene.”

House of Wolf, 181 Upper Street, London N1 1RQ Tel: 020 7288 1470

Originally published in the December 2012 edition of Bar magazine.

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