You’d be forgiven for assuming that Milroy’s on Greek Street,Soho is just another shop. Sure, the fact that it’s the oldest whisky shop in London gives it that extra bit of pizzazz, but a quick glance inside reveals nothing more than a decent off-licence-cum-tasting-bar packed with whisky connoisseurs catching up over a glass of single malt.
However, head to the back of the shop and you’ll see a large bookcase. Press a button, and said bookcase swings open to reveal the blue-lit stairs that lead down to The Vault – a hidden 55 seat basement bar where you can find some of the best cocktails in London. The dimly lit, cosy little room feels like one of London’s best-kept secrets, despite the fact that this established bar is usually packed with the same sort of clientele as every other London haunt – city boys, well-dressed couples and plenty of media types. One of the house rules is “no d*ckheads allowed” – stag parties are (also) banned – so you won’t find any unpleasantly raucous behaviour here. The vibe is relaxed, friendly and cheerfully intimate. This speakeasy-style bar feels like a little clandestine world of its own, a den of debauchery far removed from the bustle of the cobbled streets above.
Superb atmosphere aside, it’s the new cocktail menu by bar manager Chris Tanner, who joined the Vault from another of Soho’s speakeasies (Milk and Honey) that’s really worth rhapsodising over. Classics are often best left untampered with, but the smooth, subtle Coconut Butter Old Fashioned (£9.50) – featuring cardamom in the place of orange rind – tastes even better than a perfectly made original. The Porter House Punch (£9.50) is fruity and refreshing, as is the tropically flavoured Kingston Cocktail (£9.50) – made from kummel, Jamaican rum, allspice orange juice and lemon. If you’re the kind of man who, prefers a long drink after a long day, then we’d suggest the delicious Echo Park (£9.50) – gin, ginger, saffron, fennel and honey blended and served in a tall glass with lots of ice.
The standout drink however is the Japanese Rose Garden, made from Nikka by the barrel, cocchi rose vermouth, mirto rosso and chambord (£11.50). Not one for the faint hearted, this utterly fantastic, lethally potent cocktail’s ingenuity lies in how well the specific blend of ingredients showcase the Japanese whisky. Hardly a surprising achievement from a specialist whisky shop and bar, but impressive all the same. The bartenders are also happy to go off menu, and can whip up any conceivable cocktail if you so wish, but this just isn’t the kind of place you’d order a mojito in. The staff are in general very attentive and keen to help with the menu, but the only minor criticism we’d charge The Vault with is the amount of time you have to wait between ordering and receiving your drink. This isn’t the bar for the sneaky after-work “quickie” type of tipple.
The Vault is intimate, unpretentious and feels refreshingly authentic in a city of cookie-cutter cocktail bars. This is the place to take a date or to catch up with friends over a conspiratorial cocktail away from the frenzy of London. Just don’t expect to be able to stand up straight after sampling several of Tanner’s whisky wonders.