Inside Callooh Callay

Courtesy Callooh Callay
Courtesy Callooh Callay

Callooh Callay is a multi-award winning bar in East London’s thriving area of Shoreditch. Named from Lewis Carrol’s eccentric poem "Jabberwocky" the bar is just as bizarre and a true wonderland of a venue.

With just over five years under its belt, CC has become an iconic part of the London cocktail scene and been awarded:

•    World’s best cocktail menu 2012

•    9th best bar in the world 2012

•    11th best bar in the world 2013

Many of the industry’s biggest names have played a part in CC history and afforded it the slew of positive write-ups and noted praise. Most recently, Sam Kershaw had a stint behind the stick. Having worked all over the UK, in New York and finally in London where Sam featured his Bacardi Legacy top 3 cocktail ‘Favourite Frost’ to much acclaim. However, Sam is just one of a plethora of talented bartenders and brand ambassadors that have made CC such a talked about and well respected venue.

Now managed by the ever adventurous Matt Fairhurst, the bar boasts some wonderfully funny concoctions such as ‘Disco Gin Pernod’, ‘Bloody Janet Street Porter’ and ‘Glen Will I Be Famous’.

One of the most appealing traits of the bar is that it has taken many elements of the popular speakeasy style venue without ever becoming one. Its main ethos being that a great bar should have a fun atmosphere whilst still being accessible. The bar has an almost chameleon-esque ability to change and is always years ahead of the trends in style and product, with entire changes in decor, edible menus and cocktail menus that look like Oyster cards.

CC is split into 3 areas: The main bar area is much like any other with warm inviting colouring and lounge style furniture. The back room is a caricaturistic blend of seemingly random objects with comfortable seating and dim lighting only accessible through a wardrobe. Then finally there’s JubJub- a members only room complete with a throne, only entranced by use of a key. This bar features a weekly change in cocktail list with some of London’s finest bartenders found behind the helm.

A lot of bartenders such as myself view bars such as CC with great respect and we make pilgrimages to these meccas to see for ourselves where the latest pioneering drinks and concepts are created. So whilst in London I took the time to visit Callooh Callay and experience it for myself.

I had plans to meet a friend there, but arrived early and wandered in looking a bit lost and full of wonder at the same time. Two servers greeted me and I asked if it was ok to take a seat. There was nothing available already and they’d only been open an hour which served to prove its popularity. I was told there was a temporary table available and was taken through the wardrobe to the back room. This all happened within a minute of arriving so I never got a good look at the bar but was blown away by the great hospitality with which I’d been met.

The room was already alive with groups and couples and everyone was extremely immersed in the atmosphere of the venue. I took a seat and looked at the menu. A few drinks caught my eye: ‘Quinston Churchill’, ‘Spruce Willis’ and ‘Rye Me to the Moon’. I ordered the latter and gazed around the room.

Jubjub Bar, courtesy Callooh Callay
Jubjub Bar, courtesy Callooh Callay

The area was dark with a slight red glow and candles flickered away in half glass tankards on the tables. An ornate lamp sits centre stage in the room in the style of a palm tree. Other quirky objects litter the room such as a gramophone and a striped barbershop sign. These seemingly random objects tie together and give the room its unique identity. Motown music plays in the background and everyone is smiling. The walls are set with mirrors in a honeycomb fashion and there is a curtained booth at one end of the room. Staff bustle between tables and seat new arrivals as I wait. My drink arrives and the first thing I notice is that it smells amazing. The glass is super cold and the drink looks great -  a weighty old-fashioned garnished with an orange twist and a bay leaf with a good measure of Bulleit Rye, house-made Bay Leaf syrup and Amontillado Sherry.  I take my first sip and a large cube of ice tickles the top of my lip. The drink reveals itself as a perfectly balanced cocktail with each ingredient showing through in layers on the tongue. The Amontillado is a brilliant choice of sherry and really compliments the spice notes from the rye.

A "frabjous" cocktail, photo by rvacapinta
A "frabjous" cocktail, photo by rvacapinta

My friend Michaela joined me and over the course of the evening we caught up over some more of the delicious cocktails and a bite to eat. The beer battered wedges went down a treat as did the No.38 cocktail, which is served in a paper cup and paper bag with a shot of lager on the side to resemble a British takeaway. As the night drew to a close my friend remarked that she had no idea that cocktails could taste so good and that they were very reasonably priced. I told her that it’s rare for the two to go together in London and with that we both left extremely happily.

Everything met expectations and then exceeded some and it’s easy to see why CC has been so successful. I would highly recommend visiting the bar to both bartenders and enthusiasts alike.

Callooh Callay

65 Rivington Street London EC2A 3AY

P: 020 7739 4781