Mark Ludmon finds a sleek, glamorous cocktail bar just off Leicester Square in London’s Chinatown
Amid the hurly burly of London’s Leicester Square and Chinatown, is a glittering gem of a cocktail bar, The Light Lounge. Tucked away upstairs opposite a Chinese tea shop and Japanese diner, the bar quietly opened last summer, with a cocktail list curated by consultant Andy Mil, best known as one of the team behind The Cocktail Trading Co bars.
The Light Lounge is part of bar group Ku which has been a leading operator of gay bars in Soho for more than 20 years. The space was formerly the upstairs lounge of the three-floor Ku Bar and Ku Klub which continues to thrive down on ground level and in the basement. With its own separate entrance in Newport Place, The Light Lounge is a complete transformation of what was there before – doubled in size to 100-capacity, with a glamorous interior of luxurious booths, glittering lights, reflective surfaces and a shimmering chandelier of crystal. Features include striking artwork depicting Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie.
Ku group founder Gary Henshaw refers to The Light Lounge as a more sophisticated and elegant sibling to the high-energy bar and club downstairs and Ku Soho over in Frith Street. With original cocktails, premium spirits and table service, he hopes it will become as much a destination as other Chinatown bars such as Experimental Cocktail Club and Opium.
“With 30 years’ experience in the industry running bars from Ibiza to London, I have established a small portfolio of venues in the West End and developed a very recognisable brand catering to the gay market,” Gary says “With The Light Lounge I wanted to diversify and create something completely different, targeting a new clientele. I have always wanted to add to my portfolio a truly luxurious venue with service and drinks to match – a place for special occasions with bespoke cocktails and full table service. Customer satisfaction is always at the forefront for me and is key to The Light Lounge experience.”
This month, The Light Lounge unveiled a new spring/summer menu, with drinks by Andy Mil but also new cocktails by general manager Peter Friscuolo, priced around £10 to £10.50. Highlights include the refreshing Easy Street (pictured above), similar to an English Fizz, combining Portobello Road Gin, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, sugar and fresh cucumber. It is served long over ice in a Collins glass, garnished with a lime wedge, a fresh cucumber slice and a mint sprig.
Catrina’s Kiss is a twist on a Margarita, bringing together Don Julio Blanco tequila with a splash of agave syrup and fresh lime juice plus fresh grapefruit juice and a dash of Tabasco for a soft spicy kick. It is served in a coupette, garnished with a birds eye chilli and an optional salt rim.
For those with a sweeter tooth, the creamy After Midnight (pictured above) is a digestif made with Baileys, chocolate liqueur and milk that is reminiscent of an After Eight mint chocolate. Similar to a classic Grasshopper, it is served in a coupette and garnished with fresh mint leaves, chocolate bitters and an actual After Eight.
Other cocktails include a Delicious Sour – a signature serve for Père Magloire calvados, made with crème de pêche, lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg white, served on the rocks and garnished with a dehydrated lemon wheel.
Andy’s creations include the Bianchissimo which is a twist on his original Brixton Riot from his days working at London Cocktail Club bars. Served long over ice, it comprises Ketel One vodka, Gabriel Boudier Lychee Liqueur, Martini Bianco vermouth, cranberry juice, fresh lemon juice and peach puree. It can also be ordered with blackberry.
Alongside the newcomers, customer favourites have returned such as the Peach and Aperol Spritz which was a bestseller in the first five months of opening but left off the winter menu. It combines Aperol, Ketel One vodka, peach puree, homemade raspberry and rose syrup, topped with prosecco.
With the Negroni being so on trend, the bar has added a classic Boulevardier to the list, made with Bulleit bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth, but also retained its popular twist, the White Negroni, made with Tanqueray Gin, British aperitif Kamm & Sons, Belsazar Dry vermouth and Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters.
Ruinart Champagne is the house serve, from “R” de Ruinart and Ruinart Rosé available by the glass and the bottle to the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Dom Ruinart sold by the bottle. A free selection of pâtés de fruit sweets are served with every glass of the rosé. Also on the list is the fresh Selvaggio Prosecco Spumante by the glass and the bottle. Alongside Aspall Cyder, bottled premium beers include Birra Moretti from Italy and Monteith’s Bohemian Pilsner and Monteith’s IPA from New Zealand.
With a soundtrack of funk, soul and disco, The Light Lounge is open Mondays to Saturdays from 5pm, with service to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and until 11.30pm the rest of the week. To draw in the crowds early on, it offers two-for-one deals on selected cocktails between 5pm and 7pm all week – extended until closing on Tuesdays.
The Light Lounge, 1 Newport Place, London WC2H 7JR
Tel: 020 7734 8329