Zoe Fryday explores Cahoots’ new overground station-inspired Ticket Hall and Control room
Attention all passengers. Central London’s chic, experiential cocktail bar Cahoots has expanded its Soho empire. The celebrated 1940s underground train station-inspired speakeasy, set inside an abandoned tube station turned air raid shelter, has a brand new sister venue, and its located just next door on Kingly Street.
Continuing the captivating concept customers of Cahoots know and love, the latest space is modelled on a post-war overground railway station, complete with a bustling Ticket Hall and repurposed Control Room below. The two new bars are run by the same team of resourceful wrong-doers, known as the Scoundrels. The story goes that they have commandeered these derelict spaces and transformed them into buzzing, illicit cocktail bars to run their high-spirited hijinks.
With its eclectic décor, featuring wartime and train station memorabilia, cockney-speaking Scoundrels, swinging ‘40s entertainment and inventive tipples, the venue offers an immersive experience from start to finish. “We pride ourselves on our obsessive attention to detail in order to create the most immersive and authentic spaces possible,” explains Charlie Gilkes, co-founder of Inception Group, which owns and operates Cahoots. “From the moment guests walk through the door, we want them to genuinely feel like they have stepped back in time to a overground station and clandestine cocktail bar in 1946.”
Upon entering the ground floor Ticket Hall, the deep-rooted commitment to the theme is immediately obvious, with the space starring striking features such as a repurposed ticket kiosk bar, an old-school phone booth and large wall-mounted departure board. Other additions, including a Lost Property section and Tobacconist & Grocery Store complete with a community notice board, add further quirky, authentic nods to a station hall from the era.
A stairway, designed to resemble the Scoundrels’ worker tunnel, leads down to the basement’s disused Control Room. The passageway features a mix of safety signage and posters. The highlight is undoubtedly the impressive mural of Rosie the Riveter, an iconic American World War II poster figure, which Charlie explains, has proved a popular Instagram moment for visitors so far.
Once inside the Control Room, guests will immediately sense a change in ambience, as this underground space has a much edgier, clandestine feel to it. Floral-upholstered furniture and draping ceiling lamps contrast against striking booths set within exposed brick arches, filled with illuminated cogs, gages and pipes. There’s also a private ‘radio booth’ tucked in the corner, with miscellaneous radio equipment adorning the walls, and an illuminated tube map fixed above the bar. “The map is a redesigned version of London’s essential tube stops, with the addition of some amusing extra stops to delight our most eagle-eyed customers,” hints Charlie. “It is these small surprises and quirky touches, which are only discovered on closer inspection, that collectively creates unique charm and ignites guests’ playful sides. It prevents the spaces from feeling gimmicky and keeps customers coming back to uncover more.”
As the venue comprises two new Cahoots spaces, the team decided to create two new drinks menus that corresponded to the distinct character and ambience of each bar. The Ticket Hall cocktails are clear crowd-pleasers, from Rush-Hour Crush, combining Bosford Rosé gin, Essentiae lemon verbena liqueur, red shiso sorbet and sparkling wine, to West End Wide Boy, made with Cabrito Reposado tequila, Campari, mango syrup, Rinomato aperitif and lime. The Control Room serves, on the other hand, are more intricate and narrative-led. “Perhaps our most inventive and Instagram-worthy serve is the Knob Twiddler,” says Charlie. The cocktail offers a mix of Dewar’s 12yr scotch whisky, Harveys Amontillado sherry, wasabi sherbet and charcoal, and comes hidden within a bespoke Cahoots radio box that must be tuned to the correct ‘Scoundrel frequency’ to start the radio-playing and release a billow of smoke.
Another popular choice is Suspicious Activity, featuring Woodford Reserve Rye, Scoundrels’ Falernum and Crème de Menthe, topped with an edible mint ice ball. To serve this tipple, the waiter slips into a bespoke trench coat, which has secret interior pockets specially designed to smuggle the cocktail components to the table – just as they would have smuggled contraband on the post-war black-market. There’s also the home-brewed Scoundrel’s Soda, consisting of Patrón Silver tequila, Noilly Prat dry vermouth and passion berry soda, which is pre-bottled and stocked in Cahoots’ vintage Coca Cola vending machine. Upon ordering, the customer receives a special coin, which they must then use in the vending machine to release a chilled bottle of soda.
Both menus feature six Cahoots Classics, originating from the Underground’s famed newspaper menu, including Winston Churchill, Vera Lynn and Judy Garland, as well as three non-alcoholic cocktails, each made with Seedlip Garden, Spice and Grove.
An assortment of delicious pickable finger food, from black pudding sausage rolls with piccalilli to mini scotch egg poppers with a paprika dip, is available in all three bars to accompanying the playful period tipples. However, the Ticket Hall is the first, and only, Cahoots that serves food all day. Between 12pm and 5pm, customers can choose from an array of hearty British and American ‘40s fodder, including bangers and mash, fishfinger sandwiches and breaded chicken and waffles, and at the weekend, indulge in brunch favourites such as The Captain’s Brunch, with grilled halloumi, chilli avocado, poached eggs, vine cherry tomatoes and pumpkin seeds on toasted sourdough, or Pancake Stacks with a choice of fruit and chocolate sauce, or crispy bacon and maple syrup.
In terms of entertainment, there’s a live band performing well-known ‘40s favourites in the Control Room every Thursday from 9pm and in the Ticket Hall from 7pm every Sunday, while the resident DJ takes the stage in the Control Room every Friday and Saturday. From January, the Cahoots team will be launching a number of new events, including ‘Cahooch’ cocktail masterclasses, Wednesday Workshops, pub quiz nights and immersive movie evenings. “The experience we’ve created is not targeted at any specific market,” says Charlie. “We like to think that the celebratory and infectiously buzzy atmosphere of all three Cahoots spaces appeals to people of all ages, looking for an injection of fun and sense of escapism. “We believe it is our broad customer base and deep-rooted commitment to the theme that sets us – and the experience we create – apart from other concept bars in London.”
Cahoots Ticket Hall and Control Room, 5 Kingly St, Soho, London W1B 5PF
Behind the scenes
Interior design: Finch
Originally published in the January 2020 print edition of Bar magazine.