Tonight’s the night: Tonight Josephine and Bar Elba in London’s Waterloo

Tonight Josephine main

Napoleon and his rule-breaking wife Joséphine inspired two bars in London from the team behind Adventure Bar. Mark Ludmon reports. Pictures by Sebastian Barros Photography

The team behind London’s Adventure Bars have turned to 19th-century European history for inspiration for their two new hit destinations. After spotting potential in newly licensed premises in a building at Waterloo, they picked up on the story of French emperor Napoleon I who was defeated at the battle that the London station commemorates. The result is Bar Elba on the roof and, down in the basement, Tonight Josephine – named after the emperor’s wife, Joséphine.

The first to open was Tonight Josephine in what was formerly the basement of a bike shop. Walking down the stairs, you emerge into a glittering bijou bar of pinks and greens, full of reflective surfaces, striking graphics and highly Instagrammable neon signs. It was designed by leading hospitality practice Finch Interiors, headed by Sophie Finch, with Adventure’s directors, Kieron Botting, Tobias Jackson and Tom Kidd.

Tonight Josephine neon

Their starting point was Joséphine, who allegedly was once rebuffed by her husband with the line, “Not tonight, Joséphine”. The bar’s name has a more positive message as tonight is the night every night for its customers. “It’s about living for the moment,” Kieron explains. The interiors and marketing are skewed towards attracting a female crowd. The rationale behind it is set out in the cocktail menu which opens on the story of the empress, who was apparently something of a rule breaker and party animal. As Kieron sums it up: “We chose her as she was an inspirational arse-kicking chick.”

The message is made loud and clear in one of the large neon signs: “Well behaved women don’t make history.” The gender of the bathrooms is designated by mugshots of rule-breaking celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson and Justin Bieber. Joséphine’s love of roses has inspired not only the floral details in the French baroque-style wall panelling but also the transformation of a narrow passage towards the fire escape into an area cheekily called the Lady Garden, with artificial roses hanging from the ceiling.

This is all part of the Adventure team’s love of UTPs – “unique talking points”. Other details include the bespoke wallpaper in the bathroom area, covered with phrases such as “Sorry not sorry”, “Born sassy” and “Up all night to get lucky” plus some in French, including the bar’s tagline of “Bande de filles” – “gang of girls”. “For us, it was about creating lots of TNTs – ‘tiny noticeable touches’,” Kieron adds.

Tonight Josephine

With a capacity of only 130 and low ceilings, they covered the whole ceiling with mirrors to make it lighter and airier. As a canvas to the pink and green lighting, the space is furnished with white panels, silver leather banquettes and white laminate tables with a chrome edge. One wall is lined with foil strips that shimmer in the light, sealed behind glass panelling. The bar counter, tightly designed with four stations, is tiled with a hypnotic marble pattern which, like the floors, is in black and white to offset the palette of pink and green.

There is a French accent to the cocktail menu too. Drinks include the popular French Letter, created by consultant Joey Medrington and made with Grey Goose La Poire vodka, white wine, fresh lemon juice, cherry tomato, sugar and soda. Joey was also the creator of the Loch Negroni Monster, a cheeky and tasty twist made with Bombay Sapphire gin, Campari and Buckfast tonic wine.

Nostalgic flavours are recalled in the Violet Femme, made with Bombay Sapphire, Briottet Crème de Violette, fresh lemon juice, sugar, egg white and Parma Violet sweets – a recipe from one of the bartending team, Niels Skriver. Another indulgent treat is the Toasted Popcorn Sour, created by bartender Ashleigh Harris, combining Jack Daniel’s whiskey, popcorn syrup, fresh lemon juice and egg white with a popcorn garnish. As at Adventure Bars, the staff are also trained in making any classics that customers ask for. Beers include red-tinted Peroni Rossa, Dead Pony Club Pale Ale and Punk IPA alongside a short list of wines, including prosecco and champagne, as well as shooters.

Bar Elba Waterloo

Many of the cocktails can also be found on the menu four storeys up on the roof at Bar Elba – named after the Mediterranean island where Napoleon was exiled after Waterloo. However, to suit its festival-like atmosphere and 350 capacity, it offers Aperol Spritzes and Frosé on tap, made with Belsazar Rosé vermouth, rosé wine, strawberry puree and agave syrup. There are also “Big Jug Cocktails” for sharing serves of Pimm’s, Sex on the Elban Beach, Long Island Iced Tea and an Elban Punch made with Wray & Nephew Overproof rum, grenadine, orange juice, pineapple juice and lime juice. As in the basement, there are also a few wines, shooters and beers.

Despite sharing a building and inspiration, the rooftop has its own separate entrance round the corner, accessed via several flights of stairs, open seven days a week from 4pm to midnight. It is a fair climb but Adventure and Finch Interiors worked with designers Bread Collective and branding agency Junction Studio on fun graphics to provide distraction, with phrases and quotes relating to Napoleon and his exile. On the roof itself, overlooking Waterloo station and beyond, a life-size fibre-glass model of the emperor’s famous war horse, Marengo, stands atop the toilet block, painted blue like much of the wooden seating and tables. The Elba flag flies alongside him, but subtly tweaked to be red and pink rather than red and gold. Other details include giant reproductions of postcards from Elba, but Sophie at Finch Interiors points out: “There are lots of graphics but we know that what everyone is really looking at is the view.”

Tonight Josephine, 111 Waterloo Road, London SE1 8UL Tel: 020 7928 4918
Bar Elba, Mercury House, 109-117 Waterloo Road, London, SE1 8UL Tel: 020 3892 8166

Bar Elba Waterloo

Behind the scenes
Design: Finch Interiors
Main contractor: Bryan Lloyd
Branding: Junction Studio
Graphics: Bread Collective
Signage, neon: Harpers Signs
Bar system (Tonight Josephine): Tag Catering Equipment
Bar front (Tonight Josephine): Strata Tiles

Originally published in the September 2017 print edition of Bar magazine.

Previous Jack Daniel's adds barrel-strength to Single Barrel range
Next New bottle to help Cranes liqueur grow in on-trade