We were lucky enough to stumble across Horatio Street Social Club on Instagram the weekend it opened and were so intrigued by the sexy looking drinks and glowing recommendations from professional booze-hounds we knew that, half an hour later, we were sitting in the new bar’s home in the basement of The Nelson’ Head. We were instantly enamoured and decided to make return trip a couple of months on to see how the space, drinks and team were doing.
As hidden gems go, Horatio Street Social Club is certainly a venue for those in the know. In order to get to the basement den, we find ourselves navigating our way through The Nelson’s Head’s pub floor and down a staircase at the back. The new bar is the brainchild of Simon Thompson and Jake O’Brien Murphy, both previously of multi-award-winning Callooh Callay. Low-lit and intimate, the timber-panelling and hanging lanterns gives the space a nautical feel. Drinks on offer are house creations of Jake’s invention and the menu is refreshed every month.
We take a seat at the bar and browse the menu. A few of our favourites from our last visit have remained, including Garfield’s Funeral (a glorious take on an Old Fashioned, named after the first recorded reference to the classic at US President Garfield’s funeral, where the party reportedly ranged on for five days) but we’re excited to try the new bevvies.
The first drink that grabs our attention is Duster (Brown Butter Havana Club Selecciôn de Maestros, Pecan, Spanish Leather, Angostura Bitters), a deliciously rounded affair made with fat-washed rum and homemade pecan caramel. The brown butter gives the rum a richness and prolongs the mouthfeel whilst the caramel adds a deep sweetness.
Next up is the gin-based Jot + Tittle (Tanqueray Gin, Green Apple Skin Manzanilla, Sugar Snap Pea, Lime). Zippy and light, fresh pea lingers at the back of the palette whilst lime balanced the sweetness of the apple. Served in a delicate coupette, it is a refreshing start to the evening without seeming very alcoholic.
As we finish our drinks, Jake admits that he is “fascinated about making the best version of something”, which is how Empty Head (Lady Grey Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Peach2, Amontillado Sherry, Milk Bitters, Soda) came about. He describes it as “the logical endpoint of the best version of a Scotch + Ginger”. Suitable intrigued, we decide to give it a go and are not disappointed. There has been a doubling down of flavours with the ginger and scotch pairing with bergamot, peach and sherry to create a full, long, carbonated drink that is both easy-drinking and flavourful. Jake informs us that it only took 30 minutes for him to come up with Empty Head so, for our final drink, we decide to go to the other end of the scale and sample a cocktail that was over a month in the making.
It’s not everyday that we get to try a drink that has had a NASA scientist involved in its creation but when the opportunity strikes, who are we to refuse?! Rocket Man (Belvedere Lake Bartężek vodka, Martian Cognac, Bitter Blend, Red Reishi, Zinnia) got its start when Jake read about Elon Musk launching a rocket to Mars. Naturally, this got him thinking about what plants could grow on Mars as “if you can grow crops, you can grow booze”, so he began reading about Martian agriculture and found that the International Space Stations in Hawaii and Dubai are looking into this very thing. After a bit more digging, he reached out to a NASA soil scientist who sent him a massive pool of data on the terroir of Mars. From here, Jake started to create a drink. News apparently travels fast in this niche pool of interest and he found himself being contacted by Jeffrey Kluger (the writer of Apollo 13) who sent him further information to aid in his endeavour.
So, what does a Martian cocktail taste like and is Rocket Man out of this world (sorry – we know that was awful, but we just had to)?
Jake discovered that the mantle of Mars is made from volcanic rock and that space smells a bit like dusty gunpowder and sulphur. His reaction was to cook down cognac and redistil it with basalt aggregate, stripping away all the tannins and age from the barrels to create something reminiscent of grappa. This gave the cognac a stoney, flinty minerality. Once achieved, he reintroduced the cognac into the bouquet, before taking the waste product that was the tannins and barrel and cooking it down with neutral grain spirit, adding this to red reishi bitters. Finally, he created a spray out of zinnia flower (the first flower to bloom in space) and “gunpowder” that completes the drink.
In awe of the lengths that have been taken to create the cocktail that now sits in front of us, we take a tentative first sip. In essence, the drink is an analogue of a very light Boulevardier with the heavy polish vodka doing the work of the stripped-back cognac. A fleeting sweetness resolves in a developed, dry floral bitterness. This is complemented by the aromatic spray, which is alien enough to probe questions whilst perfectly locking in the flavours of the cocktail. Citrus, clay and twigs are offset by synthetic smells such as asphalt, resulting in a weird synthesis of organic and man-made olfaction. All-in-all, it is one stunner of a drink, remarkable on its own merit but aided by our admiration at its origins of being.
On being asked whether it was going to stay on the menu for a while, Jake responds with a casual “It’ll probably come off next month.” When he looks up from the drink he’s making and registers our shock, he ventures, “I don’t like drinks to have lessons in them. It’s the journey of the drink-making that interests me and research is just how my mind works. I don’t like the pretention. We structured the menu so the ingredients sound interesting enough to inspire questions but don’t need the preamble. They still sound delicious.”
And that they are. We leave Horatio Street Social Club with our palates tickles and the knowledge that we’ll be returning in a month to see what else the guys can come up with.
Horatio Street Social Club | The Nelson’s Head, 32 Horatio Street, E2 7SB
Find out more about Horatio Street Social Club here