The Handbook
The Handbook

What? An underground cocktail den in Hackney, Behind This Wall is as cool and intriguing as the name suggests.

New? After a successful stint as a 4-month summer pop-up, it went permanent in early 2016, taking over the site of a former Turkish social club.

Where? Behind This Wall, 411 Mare Street, Hackney, E8 1HY

On the Menu: Cocktails are the name of the game but don’t go looking for a mojito. Instead you’ll find ingredients like dehydrated broccoli, saline water and oysters… and yes, those are in the drinks. Ingredients are seasonal and steer well clear of anything artificial or ‘flavoured’ though, as with any self-respecting bar, they will do their best to make you whatever you like, should their conceptions not whet your whistle. Happy Hour is from 6-8pm daily and sees £4.50 cocktails (yes you read that correctly), 1/3 off bottles of wine and draught beers and, should you get peckish, £1 oysters and complimentary snacks.

The Look: Minimal is almost too strong a word here: we’re talking DIY plyboard Scandi/Japenese-esque booths and, to be honest, not a lot else. That said, we are in Hackney and hey, if a ‘Chubby Broccoli’ cocktail atop a naked wood counter isn’t your thing then you’ll want to go elsewhere anyway.

What We Ate: It is of course all about the drinks but they offer a concise snack selection if, like us, you can’t get through more than one drink without craving something to pick at. Tuesday’s are for poke but – since we went on a Friday – chilli roasted cashews and oysters with shallot vinegar and curry sauce consume were warmly received. Though the unvarnished wood surfaces may suggest otherwise, nothing here is beige.

What We Drank: We skirted the shots and accompanying chasers in favour of the creatively named stars of the show. Since the drinks are seasonal, chances are you won’t have the same thing twice, and since the drinks are so damn original, that pretty much means you’ll never taste anything like it again. We kicked things off with a ‘Bass Straight’ (whisky, artichoke vermouth and saline water) and a ‘Likety Split’ (lemon, rosemary honey syrup, orange amere, bourbon and red wine float) and were presented with two very sophisticated concoctions. The Likety Split contained just the right amount of citrus, with the drizzle of red wine serving well to cut through the acid. If you’re a showman then you’ll be wanting the Bass Straight – it comes garnished with an oyster, ready to slurp when sufficiently soaked in alcohol.

Ending the night with their take on the espresso martini, the ‘Black Patsy’ is an expectedly complex mix of the likes of pure milk vodka, dark chocolate liqueur, mole bitters and rose. It’s strong and it’s sweet, and although your head may not thank you in the morning, you won’t be thinking about that at the time.

Go With: Visiting on a Friday evening we were surprised that it was only us and one other couple there, and though people came and went it did stay pretty quiet the whole time. Google doesn’t have enough data to suggest when it’s busy either, but since 6-8pm is happy hour I’m guessing it’s more of a late-night pitstop than somewhere you’d base your night around – grab a bite to eat at one of the great places nearby then head below ground for a memorable end to the night once the hi-fi is up and running.

Final Word: If you’ve exhausted the frequent names in lists of ‘London’s top bars’ then Behind This Wall is the next for your list. Drinks are creative and exciting, and do far more for your tastebuds than any sickly, mint leaf-garnished drink ever will. It fits its Hackney surroundings perfectly and next time I find myself nearby I’ll definitely be popping in.

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Behind This Wall: 411 Mare Street, Hackney, E8 1HY