The Emporium at Whistling Shop
Anyone with more than a passing interest in cocktails knows that the ‘experience’ of drinking is inextricably linked to ones enjoyment of said drink. Of course taste is important, and a nasty tasting drink tastes bad no matter how wonderful the surroundings in which it is consumed. But once you hit the a certain threshold, other factors come into play that will impact significantly on your memory of the occasion. Sight, sound, smell, atmosphere, and the company in which you are in all become critical components. This is not news to the cocktail industry where the customer experience has been a prime consideration in the best establishments for as long as drinks have been served. There is however, something strange happening, something that takes the experience of drinking cocktails to a whole new level and delivers an experience like no other.
Located discreetly at the back of the Worship Street Whistling Shop is a cosy little den by the name of the Cocktail Emporium. From the outside it looks innocuous enough, and indeed stepping inside reveals merely a cosy space for 8 seated around a wooden table. There are a couple of picture frames on one wall, a few glasses dotted about, and a bit of exposed brickwork to go with a nicely rustic feel. It’s pleasant enough and my fellow guests and I are quite happy chatting away when we are suddenly plunged into darkness. Our initial surprise soon turns to a healthy concern for our well being as a distinct smell of fire and smoke fills the room. In the absence of any actual flames or fire alarm we opt to stay put and are soon feeling as though we have been transported back in time as images of old drinking dens and the sound of glasses clinking and laughter fills the room.
Through the single door enters a chap dressed in vintage clobber and wielding a bowl of liquid in one hand and a rather dangerous looking poker in the other. Before we know it the poker is plunged into said bowl of liquid which hisses and spits like a cat at the vets. Some tankards are produced and we instructed to enjoy our first tipple of the evening. It turns out to be a ‘flip’ produced using rum, raspberry syrup, porter and nutmeg; with the hot poker strangely not creating a hot drink, but instead caramelising the sugars to produce a delightfully tasty introduction to our evening on the history of rum.
The rest of the evening transports us through time into different era’s of rum and it’s use in drinks. Each era is accompanied by the sights, sounds, and smells that transport you right to the action. One minute you might be sailing the high sea’s and the next partaking in a voodoo ritual. A total of 6 drinks are presented, each accompanied by large sharing platters of food that are so delicious they very nearly steal the show from the drinks. They are not your usual bar snacks and whilst I thoroughly enjoyed them, vegetarians and those with more conservative tastes should be warned! Our host for the evening, Tristan Stephenson (co-owner of the Whistling Shop and sister bar Purl) was fantastically knowledgeable and ensured that the evening achieved a good mix of pure indulgence and fun, mixed with a good smattering of learning. The experience is supposed to last two hours but our enthusiastic discussions stretched it out to three. In addition to the wonderful drinks, sights, smells etc I particularly enjoyed how the evening was structured in such a way to allow the guests to talk amongst themselves for periods in between each drink. This enabled the experience to be ‘digested’ and we had great fun guessing what the next one will be.
The Cocktail Emporium takes age old fundamentals of customer experience and brings them right up to date. The small size of the group means that the event can easily be tailored to different customer needs, but is sure to enjoyed by anyone with a passing interest in food and drink. The drinks themselves are less ‘challenging’ than the food which opens the experience to more than just the cocktail ‘geeks’ like me. At £95 a head it’s not cheap but considering it’s unique offering and small group size, perfectly reasonable. The ‘History of Rum’ runs until early December 2011, after which different spirits will be given the Emporium treatment. My conclusion? I can’t wait for the next one!