There seems to be some sort of rule these days that says that the harder a bar is to find, the better it is. No watering hole is worth visiting, apparently, unless you must first tramp up and down the street getting more and more irate with Google Maps. Ironically, these places are always hugely popular, and the Reverend J.W. Simpson is no exception.
It’s a tricky one to spot, hidden away in the basement of an anonymous-looking shop on Goodge Street, stuffed with chintzy chairs and mismatched tables. Named after a titular clergymen who lived there in the eighties, the Reverend features stained glass windows, original wallpaper (allegedly), and strategically placed pieces of pipework as toilet-roll holders. They’ve really, really gone to town on the ‘forgotten speakeasy’ vibe. Except nobody had really forgotten it; by the time we left at 10pm, it was packed.
We were there to attend one of the bar’s ‘Spirited Sermons’, evening masterclasses centred around a selection of underappreciated and – it must be said – magnificently uncool drinks. (Our session was on aperitifs, but throughout the summer the Reverend is also preaching on summer brandies, Jenever and vermouth.) They take place in the back room, amidst flickering tealights and a galaxy of glasswear. The sermons are taken by Deano, a genial character who, although not an actual reverend, was certainly approaching near-fanaticism for the noble art of cocktail making. He spoke with the authority and unbridled enthusiasm of someone who was well and truly Loving It.
Aperitifs, we learned, were used over 4000 years ago to lube up the palate before food. They enhance the appetite, usually by combining carefully balanced flavours of bitterness and sweetness to stimulate the salivary glands, wetting the mouth and whetting the appetite. For each drink we’d try the key ingredient neat (which was always horrible) and then a proper cocktail made with it.
The cocktail always came as a pleasant surprise – all four were quite delicious, especially the Kamm-Earling Cooler, which was made, amongst other things, with vinegar. The core spirit alone was disgusting. If I was being polite, I’d describe it as pickled earthworm flavour (and if I wasn’t, I’d say it tasted like rabid cock). It really was the worst thing. But then the bartender did something magical and turned it into a long, peachy cooler that puckered the mouth in a weirdly pleasing way, and made me think of chips. It was the oddest thing I’ve ever tasted, but it was absolutely delicious. Do not leave without trying one.
We left much drunker than we anticipated. The bar staff, all of whom were overwhelmingly cheerful, good-looking and dressed in shirts and suspenders, were clearly of the kind that didn’t believe in watering down precious alcohol with anything as frivolous as a mixer. They pride themselves here on their clever mixes made with seasonal ingredients – Deano told us they’ll often get through bottles and bottles of spirits developing a drink – so it’s definitely one for connoisseurs. My incredibly
snobby discerning flatmate is even taking a date there later in the week, in fact, so you know it must be good.
We visited the Reverend JW Simpson for a Spirited Sermon in aperitifs, but more classes are available on every first Wednesday of the month throughout the summer. Tickets cost £25/head and include at least three tasting cocktails to try. Find out more and book tickets online here.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.