Rocket Leisure has opened Old Street Records, a new bar combining cocktails and live music. Interiors photography by Gareth Gardner
It is six years since Tom Jackman and brothers Russell and Howard Taylor of Rocket Leisure opened their first bar together. With a background in hospitality and leisure, they created Venn Street Records, a destination in Clapham in south London that quickly became well known for both its cocktails and its live music. After opening a second site, Northcote Records, in nearby Battersea three years ago, they have succeeded in their ambition of opening a third bar, this time north of the river in Shoreditch.
Old Street Records develops their successful recipe of great drinks combined with music, creating a party atmosphere six nights a week. Set across two floors, the new 300-capacity venue was previously Tex-Mex restaurant Café El Paso – a prime site on a busy stretch of Old Street that many operators were eyeing up before Rocket Leisure nabbed it.
To help them create the best-possible interiors, they brought in Blacksheep, an internationally renowned design agency that has worked on many top bars, restaurants and clubs. They have built on the welcoming US dive bar feel of the previous two outings, taking inspiration from the eclectic vibrancy of the local area as well as New York City record stores. Alongside a copper bar and rich details such as diamond-stitched leather booths, warmth is added through exposed brickwork, dark timbers and soft leather sofas, with neon signage providing a backdrop.
The basement has a darker feel to the interior design, with rough textured walls and leather seating encased around steel mesh screens to give an added industrial feel. Lighting strips overhead are synched to the music.
Like the previous two bars, the shelves and walls are filled with colourful record sleeves and band posters, and a selection of vinyl records is available to buy at the bar. DJs and live music are programmed across both floors every day, from labels showcasing their up-and-coming talent to special events featured big names. The music is eclectic, ranging from soul, funk, jazz and rock to classic pop.
Entry on weeknights is free – alongside “two for one” on cocktails from 5pm to 8pm to draw in after-work crowds – while a small cover charge applies on Fridays and Saturdays when there are two live acts a night. Every Thursday, it hosts P45, with live music from the London Ska Orchestra and The Last Of on the ground floor and “lairy” brass act Old Dirty Brasstards in the basement, with DJs playing across both floors until 2am.
The cocktail list features twists on the classics including the signature Sour Records which has been on the menu since 2010 – a Whiskey Sour with Jack Daniel’s plus Giffard pistachio syrup. Other cocktails, all priced at £8.90, include the Smoked Pineapple Punch, made with Bacardí Carta Oro rum and vanilla syrup, shaken hard with pineapple juice, fresh lime juice and a touch of smoky Talisker whisky. Another highlight is the Peach Negroni – a mix of Patrón Silver tequila stirred with Giffard Crème de Pêche, Campari and peach bitters. The selection of house pours reflects a strong relationship between Rocket Leisure and Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands. The bartenders have been trained to make any classic so the menu encourages customers to ask for them and “get your pout out and stamp your feet”.
Alongside a short list of wines, there is a good selection of craft and world beers, from Asian lagers Asahi and Chang to US brews Flying Dog IPA and Sly Fox golden lager to home-grown Beavertown Neck Oil IPA and a regularly changing list of local specials supplied by The Beer Boutique in Putney.
The food is focused on Italian-style thin-crust 12-inch pizzas, with a variety of toppings, served with dips. Priced from £7 to £9, options range from the Diavola Nduja, with spicy salami, spicy Calabria sausage, Fior di Latte mozzarella-style cheese and tomato, to the Parmigiana, made with roasted aubergine, garlic, Fior di Latte and tomato pesto.
After taking their hit concept to east London, the Rocket Leisure team are already looking out for a fourth site. After proving that their Records concept can work outside their home turf of Clapham and Battersea, it won’t be long until it bursts onto the scene in another neighbourhood.
Old Street Records, 350-354 Old Street, London EC1V 9NQ
Tel: 020 3006 5911
Behind the scenes
Main contractor: Tekne
Leather sofas, bar stools: Noble Russell
Pendant lighting: Santa & Cole
Bespoke light features: Northern Lights
Light globes: Edison Light Globes
Originally published in the October 2016 print edition of Bar magazine.