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Drink Here: The Palace of Humbug

Jane Ryan | 05/04/2017

There’s a secret rock ‘n roll cocktail bar inside one of London’s most famous drinking destinations. Here’s the inside scoop.

What are we going to do now? Drink our emotions and listen to rock music, that’s what.  

And by drink our emotions, we really mean it, because that's what Callooh Callay’s newly revamped upstairs bar is all about. This small space beyond the wardrobe, through the back lounge, up the stairs and beyond the locked door, has seen a lot in its life - from its time as a boozy sweet shop filled with childhood flavour memories to when it revolutionised as a Cuban drinking den with echoes of Hemingway and Che Guevara reverbrating to the sounds of La Floridita.

But, as impressive as they all were, they were short-lived pop-ups. The Palace of Humbug has a decidedly more moody and permanent vibe with innovative drinks named for the emotions they conjure.

We arrived early doors on a Friday night, and having scouted out the manager for a key to unlock the door, went straight upstairs. If you haven't visited Callooh before (three visits and you earn the right to drop the second name. Same goes for other east stalwarts Happiness Forgets, Satan's Whiskers and Sager + Wilde) then the front bar can appear to be all there is. But you'd be missing the complete experience if you didn't venture beyond, at the very least to have a sticky beak. 

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The Palace of Humbug already appears to be bigger than any former use of this upstairs space. And it is, with the crafty team here managing to rip out a fake wall, leaving the space a little less cramped and a little more intimate - and we all know which adjective you're after on a Friday night. Gone are the banquettes, replaced by small round, under-lit tables to illuminate the menus and indivdual chairs on which to perch - they do give off quite a bit of light though so it's goodbye to the dark and dirty corners, something the staff are no doubt grateful for. 

We'd heard about the rock n' roll playlist, guitar wall mural and seriously well-crafted cocktails, but on paper The Palace of Humbug sounded as if a few concepts had collided uncomfortably in a small room. Then again I've never believed cocktails had to be paired to jazz and if anything has proved that it's the blairing hiphop coming from Bethnal Green each night. If Jay Z's 99 Problems can accompany my Peach Blow Fizz then Jimi Hendrix can serenade my Shame. 

Shame being one of the fantastic drinks on this new menu, made with single malt vodka, Kingston Black aperitif and a peach barley liqueur. The concept is pretty evident, ordering the drink gives you a feeling that you've chosen the easy peachy vodka drink when you've expressly come to a dedicated cocktail bar. Shame on you. Shame it's so tasty you'll do it again. 

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Our other drink was Anxiety, another negative emotion on the menu alongside Envy, but then I felt it should somehow be a better experience than ordering Love, Calm, Kindness, Confidence or Contentment. Who wants any of that mushy stuff? Anxiety was made with Ron Zacapa rum, yuzu, soy and avocado and thanks to the last ingredient had a very bizarre texture. I wasn't exactly made anxious by this but it certainly wasn't calming either. 

All in all, a brilliant revamp for a space that has seen a lot of drinking history and has had some of the world's best bartenders behind it and in front of it. Team Callooh take a bow. 

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