Nightjar, London’s Premier Jazz Bar of today
There’s a perennial allure when it comes to old-fashioned jazz-bars. Perhaps it’s atmospheric low lighting, or perhaps the sultry crooners that invoke an image of a secret world long gone. Regardless, there’s certainly something to be said about the appeal of the past when it comes to night-time haunts. Here, there’s an irony to be had of course. The longing for these venues, often in the guise of a prohibition ‘speakeasy’ impart the notion that life was simpler and easier in a golden age gone by, where in reality, the trailing context that gave birth to what’s called the ‘devil’s music’ is one that needn’t be replicated. However, what should be adopted that even in the Great Depression, the siren call of a Jazz Bar allowed one to discard the dismay of their daily lives and lose themselves to its evocative attraction. Truly, one needn’t feel the blues when listening to the blues in a jazz bar. Rather, the modern jazz bar certainly fosters the sensual delights of smooth music, a sleek setting and tantalising drinks in homage to the earliest of its New Orleans predecessors. One venue that successfully brings jazz to the modern age is the Nightjar, in Hoxton, London, close to Old Street Tube Station.
Established in 2010, the Nightjar is very young, particularly relative to the genre of music that inspired it. Yet, in its short years, it’s popularity and success has met a rapid crescendo. The reasons for this are not difficult to see, despite any manner dim lighting. The Nightjar possesses all that one could hope for in a contemporary jazz bar; it has style and excellence emanating out from itself. This being said, it is now a requisite to book in advance in order to gain entry, a fact in itself, that although requires extra planning, only adds to its clandestine appeal.
Stay Seated as you Drink, Dine and Delight
When taking in the setting of Nightjar, the first thing you would notice is that everyone is neatly seated in one of its comfortable booths. In fact, Nightjar has a no standing policy that prevents it from getting too crowded, and prevents you, the customer, from having to wait around on foot as a table later becomes available. Furthermore, there’s something more intimate about having every party appointed to a table, adding to the impression that everyone there is a member of that night’s exclusive but ephemeral club. Orders are therefore taken at the table, and unlike typical bars aren’t available to be made at the bar.
In terms of décor, Nightjar accomplishes exactly what one may expect from a trendy London jazz bar, but does so with a dedicated attention to detail. There are dark wood ceilings and fixtures, deep red leather seats and exposed brick walls. The soft lighting of its bell-shaped wall lamps, like fireflies in a Creole midnight, illuminates the bar. In short, the atmosphere is hip, dark and soulful.
Bringing a Creative Edge to Classic Cocktails
What Nightjar is most famous for is the sheer expanse and quality of its drinks menu. The cocktails available are many and prepared by a team of talented mixologists; simply, one would be hard pressed to find better cocktails in London. They are not merely artful in their melange of flavours but their scents, textures and presentation. Given the scope of the cocktails available, Nightjar divides its drinks in accordance to key periods of the jazz age. Categories include ‘Pre-Prohibition’, ‘Prohibition’, ‘Post-War’ and ‘Nightjar Signatures’ and each category provides both familiar and more adventurous options. Needless to say, what unifies the different cocktails is a level of finesse and a masterful blend of complimentary proponents that makes the drink as smooth as Billie Holliday is on the ears. A personal favourite came from the ‘Prohibition’ category, the ‘Forager’s Shrub’ and had me embody the glee of a Great Gatsby soirée. This cocktail was steam punk in its presentation; it was served in a cocktail glass come laboratory flask and would have Dr Jekyll up his intake of the transformative elixir. The drink was a delicious meeting of Gin, Sauvignon Blanc with a sweet and tangy melange of cordial and Lemon Longan & Jujube vinegars.
Even a tried and tested classic, such as the Bloody Mary, is given an exciting twist at Nightjar. The blend of Chase Potato Vodka, an elusive ‘Nightjar Bloody Mary mix’, spices and root vegetables exposes what many of its competition actually is – an amateur attempt at the art of mixology, and sadly often nothing more than vodka and tomato juice with a stick of celery. For the initiated, Nightjar sincerely is the equivalent of a Michelin Starred Restaurant in the Cocktail World. At £10-£15 each, the cocktails are not cheap but competitively priced for a London bar. Needless to say, you may be paying the same, if not more for a rival drink, but without the creativity or cleverness.
However, Nightjar doesn’t exclusively serve Cocktails. If you’re someone with less of a sweet tooth and prefer the refined flavour of a high-quality spirit then I recommend one of the bars many vintage options. One of Nightjar’s most exclusive, and understandably limited offerings is the Hannisville Bourbon, thought to have been distilled in the 1860s, in the Hannis Distillery of West Virginia. Although this particular option is very expensive, other fine spirits are priced from around £7-£20 per 50ml measure and include classics from Oxley Gin to Courvoisier Exclusif Brandy.
Match the Liqueur with Moreish Bar Snacks
If you would like to soak up the intoxicating drinks with tempting dishes of food, Nightjar too has you covered. Offering a range of Tapas, Pinchos and Bar Snacks, made freshly on the premises, Nightjar isn’t the venue for three-course dining, yet is amply sufficient in its delicious offering to keep the appetite at bay. These light dishes are devilishly moreish and are Mediterranean in inspiration. Menu Highlights include the ‘Zucchini Rolls with Ricotta ad Pine Nuts’ at £5, and the ‘Board of Jamon Iberico’ at £8. The food really is designed for sharing however, so it is best when ordering a variety of dishes with your table.
No Need for Blues with the Absorbing Music
Putting the titular ‘jazz’ in a ‘jazz bar’ is Nightjar’s live music. Although it has an ambient jazz and blues soundtrack, it would be a shame not to visit Nightjar on one of it’s many Live Music nights, which happily outnumber the ones where there are none. Like a smoky Cabaret joint of yesteryear, Nightjar books a variety of talented acts, from scatting singers to energetic ragtime pianists to swinging live bands. The result is engaging and electric, and offers a platform for captivating performers whilst you sit back with a drink. Given the sheer volume of the acts that are booked, it is hard to give an approximation of a standard night, but it’s easy to affirm that any act will have the chops to pull you in, whatever your bag.
Nightjar is certainly somewhere I recommend without reservation. I suggest it for those whom enjoy a mature but fun atmosphere, supported by stimulating live music and expertly crafted drinks. For those looking for an alternative venue to enjoy cocktails with their friends, colleagues or loved ones, Nightjar will certainly ensure you appear savvy and knowledgeable in your choice of London bars. However, jazz music itself may partake in joyful improvisation, you should remember to book in advance.