No one ever said “I don’t like cellar bars”. What’s not to like..descending down steps from street level reality into an underworld of hospitality is an experience that always creates an air of intrigue and pre-drink supping suspense.
Nothing is given away from the entrance at the top of the stairs. Just a clean bold logo, friendly door staff and the hustle and bustle of Stephenson Street opposite the shiny mirrored Grand Central Station entrance.
When you enter the venue you get a smack to your audible and visual senses. You weren’t expecting those stairs to open up into such a large, well orchestrated space.
Stimulating lighting is used in a subtle yet effective way – a mixture of neon signs, inset disco displays and modern but quirky chandeliers and spot lights. This is all brought together by a perimeter of raised retro red seating booths, tall tables and the sounds of accessible
mellow rock, tasteful R&B and retro 80’s soul.
their creations are made with effortless style, and concocted directly in front of you
The focus though is the centre of the space which is where the magic happens. A socially conducive large rectangular bar area, wrapped in tall tan leathered Chesterfield style stools, hexagon tiled bar front and a selection of bottles to appeal to even the most discerningly spirited person. Once seated, you are able to breathe in your initial impressions and start to feel the warmth of the hospitality that awaits.
There’s no messing around. You are quickly greeted with a smile and handed a cocktail menu that will inspire and dictate your evening’s intoxicated journey, because, let’s face it, when you see the delights on offer, no one is going to be driving home or at least leaving in a hurry.
The visual and well written descriptions of each cocktail leave no question to the customer of ingredients or flavours. It’s just hard to know where to start this journey as the choice is extensive yet refined and like a sumptious menu in a high-end restaurant, you feel like you want to try everything.
The staff behind the bar aren’t bar servers, nor cocktail tenders..more like artists as their creations are made with effortless style, and concocted directly in front of you so you can see the alchemy emerge. There isn’t an 8oz glass of pretension or arrogance amongst these well-dressed performers which isn’t uncommon in the cocktail making set.
Sure, there is a pride that can be achieved when delivering someone liquid perfection, however the experience here feels like they are crafting their art just for you from their heart with kindness. You Be(come) At One with the service they deliver and this is a certainly a rare achievement in my cocktail book.
Espresso Martini to the Raspbeery!
Though there is so much to choose from I wanted to indulge in my favourites initially, before venturing into unchartered waters. First up, an Espresso Martini. I’m a self certified addict when it comes to this wonderful Dick Bradsell invention, so my expectations were high.
The balance of fresh coffee, vodka and coffee liquor exceeded my taste bud’s memories and found the perfect balance of bitter and sweet, with that unbeatable caffeine kick.
Where next but to an Old Fashioned. Fresh orange, sugar, maraschino cherry and bitters are stirred in to make this a strong and smooth Bourbon beauty and I can’t say I’ve tried a better effort.
My mouth rejoiced and my mind mellowed drinking in this delight
Everything is fitting into place now, the atmosphere, the drinks, the sense of privacy sat in your own bubble at the bar. I start to feel like I have been transported back into the 80’s film Cocktail.. though don’t get me wrong there is a certain tastefulness and well thought out design concept that doesn’t lend to dodgy Hawaiian shirts or the tack of nearby Broad Street.
Yet there is this sense that you have gone back to a time when things were easier going, and to sit around the bar is the correct thing to do.
Time to move away from the classics and try out a Candy Pants. It’s a very easy-drinking long one, dominated by strawberries, but given a sweet kick by the blackcurrant vodka. My mouth rejoiced and my mind mellowed drinking in this delight.
What better way to wash this down than with their very own beer and spirit infusions, say hello to the Raspbeery! These were new to me and in the spirit of the fruity beers of the continent, this very accessible beer cocktail is a winner across the board. Mixing vodka, lemon juice, raspberry syrup, crushed ice and Meantime Pale Ale.
This was a triumph and set the tone for my final drink in the same vain, a Shaky Pete. Created by bartender Pete Jeary, this cocktail blends gin with ginger and lemon juice before topping off with beer. It’s really tasty and super-refreshing and left me on a cocktail high that sealed the deal.
All in all, a lovely liquid inspired evening was had and I have no doubt that I would like to Be At One with this venue again.
Review for Grapevine Birmingham by Ollie Lloyd, Director, The Yardbird