By the time I got around to making the necessary reservations, the only slots available were for 6pm or 6.15pm since it was Edith Piaf night and all the other tables had been snatched up in anticipation of the music. The whole establishment is table service only, which is excellent in my case since I've never been able to call any attention to myself at a bar unless I were the only one around (It's happened before).
Past patrons have mentioned that multiple hikes up and down the street were necessary before the door finally emerged from between two cafes, very Room of Requirement-esque. In my case, I spotted the door on my first go, so either the rest of them weren't terribly observant (Dark wooden door with metal plate of a bird on it? Check.) or maybe I was just so terribly desperate for a drink that the door sensed it and unfolded itself immediately just for me. At 6pm, there was nary a bouncer in sight, so I charged forward and down the stairs, and into dimly lit destiny.
Done in a speakeasy style that so many seem to be aspiring to these days, Bar Nightjar is thankfully more private club than blindness-inducing moonshine.
With the cocktail menu divided into multiple sections - Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Post-Prohibition, Nightjar Signatures and For Sharing, there is a dizzying array of drinks available. Only premium spirits are used, and the rest of the ingredients are made or prepared on premises. These include the likes of Oyster Leaf Infusions, Hot Coconut Butter Float and Nightjar Fruit Shrub - all terribly intriguing, but of little help when it comes to making a choice when you have no idea what they mean or how they taste in relation to the rest of the drink.
I mentally toyed with three different drinks before crying uncle and asking the closest member of staff for help.
"What do you like? Something sweet? Something fruity....?"
"I want something that's not sweet. Something complex."
"Ah, then you'll want the Jungle Bird then."
When my drink came in a massive metal bird with an ice cold metal straw and garnished with mint, redcurrants and powdered sugar that looked like snow, I was highly amused. The Jungle Bird is made up of Brugal Anejo rum, Ceylon Arrack, curry leaf infusion, China Amaro, papaya-butternut-cantaloupe juice, coconut blossom sugar, aromatic lime and Sarsaparilla root beer. I spent the first few mouthfuls trying desperately to see if I could single out the different flavours inside it. I maybe got a hint of papaya, but that was it. I had no idea what I was drinking, I just knew that I liked it. At various points it tasted like something I could not name, then another something I could not name, and I was happy to puzzle over it. After a while, I tossed the currants into the drink, and after it was over I fished them out, fizzy and a little boozy and refreshingly cold from the crushed ice inside.
Feeling rather peckish, I ordered a couple of their tapas. The zucchini roll came stuffed with a light and creamy ricotta cheese, chives and toasted pine nuts, and went very well with the drinks, but it was the tuna tartare with guacamole that was the highlight of the evening. Tender chunks of tuna that seemed to have absorbed the tartare sauce right to the core, falling apart on your tongue, to be eaten together with a guacamole almost heinously salty on its own, which gave the fish an even greater kick.
I was loathe to share it, and enforced a rule that saw us eating it morsel by morsel, willing it to go further, and when the wait staff thought we were done and tried to take the last three pieces away away my hand shot out to stop them. I may have screamed "NOOO!", or I may have not.
The staff there were lovely. They topped up our glasses of water ever so often, and were on the lookout to give us more complimentary popcorn (Chock full of salt and butter) whenever we ran out. They even helped when we had an unexpected guest drop by.
I wanted something gin-based for my second cocktail of the evening, and got the Marmalade No. 2, Tanqueray Ten Gin with a Turkish apple infusion, more China Amaro, the Nightjar Apertivo marmalade and aromatic tea smoke. As you can see, it was topped with a lively gingham cloth (Just like a real jar of marmalade!), a lime jelly and some bits of bitter red salt I could not identify.
Given the massive slab of ice that took up much of the cup, it seemed as though two generous gulps would have been enough for the entire drink to disappear, so I took dainty sips. It wasn't cloyingly sweet like I feared, rather more like a thin but flavoursome blood orange marmalade with bitter preserved peels thrown in, shot through with a healthy dose of gin.
We ended up staying till 9 pm, and no one made any move to push us out. Before we left, the band for the night started last minute rehearsals for their set, and we were treated to an eerily good rendition of Je Ne Regrette Rien, which quite neatly summed up the whole evening.
Bar Nightjar, 129 City Rd, London, Greater London EC1V 1JB, www.barnightjar.com/