Crossroads opened its doors at the beginning of August on the site of what was previously Ladies & Gentlemen Camden. We popped down on opening night and a few occasions since to see what was what and how the team was coping launching a new bar during these difficult times.
These days, your first steps into a bar are a bit nerve-wracking. Will it be jammed? Will people be entirely flouting distancing guidelines due to inebriation or simply not caring? Will the experience lack all that is experiential and sociable due to COVID fears and restrictions? They’re an odd set of anxieties that six months ago wouldn’t have registered in most seeking a drink with a side of hospitality, however now we’re all (understandably) alert and wary, making opening a new drinking hole that much harder.
As we make our way down the steps to the subterranean bar housed in an old Victorian public toilet, a few of these concerns bubble up to the surface. We peek around the corner to spy an immaculate and surprisingly spacious, open-planned venue with a tall corner bar counter and seating effortlessly segregated by attractive, removable wood dividers. Matt indigo walls and low-slung pendant lighting create a cool, relaxed atmosphere, with “skylights” from the paving above bathing the space in natural light. Still perched on the steps, we sound out a holler and receive one in response, followed by the appearance of the venue’s smiling co-owner, Bart Miedeksza (ex-High Water). His warm welcome and easy charm instantly puts us at ease and we take our seat in one of the little booths.
The Crossroad‘s menu features eight Signature Cocktails (£9), two Low ABV Cocktails (£.7.50), a carefully curated selection of wines from small producers (£6.50-£9), and a choice of beers or Sassy cidre (£5), along with homemade pickled ‘Bites’. Those with a hankering for a particular classic cocktail have only to ask and see their wish granted.
We start proceedings off with a Fish House Punch (reworked) and a Black Cardinal. As he works away, we chat to Bart about the opening. He explains how he and his wife Monica (ex-Vagabonds Wines) had been approached by the space’s owner, Willy Borrell (who Bart knew well from his stint as International Brand Ambassador of Willy’s Vestal Vodka) during lockdown. They decided to take on the project to open a new bar in one month, completely transforming the space with new walls over the previous tiles and a social-distance-friendly layout that could be easily adapted post-pandemic, as well as developing a concept based on limiting waste, foraged ingredients and neighbourhood hospitality. It was quite a challenge but, with the help of their colleague Elliot Pieddeloup (ex-High Water) they certainly seem to have flourished.
“We’ve had a brilliant response from all the guests that visited us so far – everyone seems to be so happy to be out again and seeing a new establishment open seems to make everyone hopeful for the future. It’s a welcome change to all the horrifying news of both new and legendary venues deciding to close permanently due to the pandemic. We’ve had very positive feedback about our concept too. I think being in lockdown made people realise how much food goes to waste and how easy it is to prevent this. The community from the Camden area has also been very welcoming and we’re hoping to develop a strong relationship with our neighbours. So far we’ve called on some local artists to create artwork for our walls and we’re waiting for the first results. We’ve also asked the neighbours what they grow in their gardens/allotments/window sills because we’d love to buy any excess produce they might have and use it in our drinks!”
Bart’s reworked version of the classic Fish House Punch uses a blend of Martell VS, Appleton Signature Blend and Smith & Cross. A hint of smoke comes from Lapsang Souchong tea infused Campari. Whilst Campari is not a classic ingredient in a Fish House Punch, the team “feel it prolongs the finish and adds another layer to the drink.” They’re not wrong! Mouthwateringly juicy peach pairs with the Cognac’s fruity florality, with Smith & Cross’s inimitable character standing alongside the gentle smoke of the tea. The mouthfeel is viscous and lingering with Campari bringing a tartness to the fruity mix. All-in-all it’s robing, balanced and dangerously quaffable. Black Cardinal employs a similar Lapsang-Souchong-Campari combo, this time taking the form of a Negroni with a tempering tannin and whisper of smoke.
Next up is the Sazerac-esque Ace of Spades with its lightly peaty nose and absinthe rinse. Rooibos tea adds a fruit-driven roundness to the bourbon, creating a rich, New Orleans style drink with a delicious twist. Remember the Name is another homage to a New Orleans classic (Remember the Maine), which features cherry-infused whisky, Chinato and cherry soda.
“We picked cherries when they were in season from one of the local “Pick your own” farms. Then we juiced them using steam extraction (which increased the yield of the juice by 900% compared to regular juicing). We took the leftover fruit and some of the fresh ones and infused it into Chivas Regal12yo for 10 days. Once the cherry scotch was ready, we covered the cherries from the infusion with water for seven days. After this, we took this infused water, added sugar and malic and tartaric acids, and carbonated the lot, producing cherry soda. The leftover cherries are covered with simple syrup and used as a garnish.”
The result is an unconscionably juicy and honest cherry highball that can be enjoyed all night long. The use of naturally occurring acids – usually added via citrus fruit – is one of the team’s endeavours to cut down on waste. Blends of citric acid (found in lemons and many other fruit), malic acid (apples, also present in limes and gooseberries, etc.), tartaric acid (the one responsible for tartness in cherries, grapes, etc.) are used, often with a touch of salt, to adjust the acidity of ingredients made from fresh produce for the sake of consistency between batches.
“Even though we try to use as little citrus as possible, we still have some limes, lemon, oranges and grapefruit that we juice to order when we need them for the classic cocktails – you’ll still be able to get your delicious Daiquiris or Margaritas amongst other classics! We collect the husks of the fruit and any juice there might be left over from the night, mix them together with sugar and water in a particular ratio, let them infuse for some time, strain and then freeze, essentially making a sorbet. This can then be used as a great palate cleanser in between the cocktails and we might even create a cocktail with this at some point. We’ll keep on adding citrus as we go to the existing sorbet making an unpredictable blend that one day might be more lemony and the second more grapefruity, depending on what we’ve been using on the night – that’s the beauty of the infinity stock!”
We take a break from the cocktails to try the other side of Crossroad’s impressive offering – the wine! One such is Alfredo Maestro Lovamor Albillo – the 2019 vintage of the one Bart and Monika shared on their first Valentine’s day together, and which therefore hold a special place in their hearts. It is an orange wine from Spain, vinified with Albillo grapes, macerated on-skin for seven days before being fermented with indigenous yeast and aged in large oak barrels for 12 months. Fresh and clean with apparent minerality, a gentle saline quality and fruit notes of apricot, pears, lemon peel, cider and apples, it’s an easy orange wine with an approachable funk. On the topic of love-based menu choices, Bart also mentions that the wine they served at their wedding (Turnac Solaris from a small vineyard in Poland, 50 miles from their hometown) will also soon be available at the bar.
Our grape-sponsored interlude complete, we return to the cocktails, easing back in with the refreshing and salivatory Bay (Havana Club 3, Pedroni Vermouth & Tonic, Bay leaf cordial), followed by the Calvados-based Rising Star, complete with background banana and a tickling Habanero spice.
Bart tells us that our penultimate bevvy, Cairo (Vestal Vodka, Cold Brew Sencha, Melonade, SŪPĀSAWĀ, Absinthe, Soda), is proving to be a favourite amongst customers and we certainly see why. Unctuous, yet grippy, with a juicy melon sweetness held up by cold brew green tea tannin and a memory of absinthe, this fresh and elegantly decadent drink has got to be an award-winner down the line.
We end our night (and the menu) with a rye Old Fashioned, Pepper – a testament to the Crossroad team’s skill and practical use of slightly odd ingredients. Eliot gives us a sample of the shrub added to the rye whiskey and vetiver – a delicious combo of black peppercorns and balsamic vinegar, at once earthy and spicy and sweet and tangy – alongside a mindblowing coffee balsamico he plans on using in an upcoming cold brew coffee highball.
It’s safe to say, our earlier worries about being out have completely dissipated, in part due to Bart and Eliot’s easy hospitality and welcoming manner, as well as the layout and service that sees patrons kept apart whilst still allowing for a social and friendly atmosphere. The drinks were all on-point and incredible value for money, with a few favourites found and many more to come. Knowledgeable and entirely personable, with an eagerness to create no alcohol or off-the-cuff bespoke drinks to suit the tastes of any visitors, this is a true neighbourhood gem that we can envisage going from strength to strength.
Well done, folks. See you soon.
Crossroads, Old Victorian Toilets, 213 Royal College Street, NW1 0SG