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Bar Review – Lounge Bohemia, London

Submitted by Tim on February 16, 2011 – 2:29 pmNo Comment

by Roberta (Bob) Simpson,  special to MixPourSip.com

The question I have to ask is this: what do you expect from a bar or from a bartender? If all you look for in a bartender is someone with the ability to pour a glass of wine at a crowded bar on a Friday night, and what you look for in a bar is somewhere to drink your glass of wine while attempting to shout a conversation with a friend standing no more than a foot from you, then I would say that you are reading the wrong article.

Being far more exacting, I am a firm believer that the bar experience is not just about the drinks that you can order, or the atmosphere of a particular place, but also about the bartender – whether they have a genuine interest in the drinks they are making and are enjoying what they do. I would even go as far as to say that I am not sure someone who does not enjoy making cocktails would be able to make a cocktail I would enjoy.

Lounge Bohemia

Lounge Bohemia small Bar Review – Lounge Bohemia, London

I have been to a number of bars around the world – some of which I hope to write about subsequently to this article – and have therefore been the recipient of a number of cocktails made by a number of bartenders in a number of very different bars. However, no matter how many bar experiences I have had in the last couple of years I find myself continuously returning to Lounge Bohemia as my favorite pin-up of what a bar should really be like.

Walking into Lounge Bohemia in London is like walking into a piece of history, and it is a world apart from most of the other bars you will find in the Shoreditch area of London. Lounge Bohemia is a secretive place, hidden in plain view on one of the busy streets of central-east London just outside the square mile of the financial part of the city, and it is this which has helped preserve its feeling of being mysteriously apart. The entrance to the bar consists of a small easy-to-miss door leading onto a narrow corridor between a newsagents and a kebab shop. The corridor is lined with original Czech newspapers and has a small sign just inside the door announcing the name of the bar and the bar rules (Lounge Bohemia is by appointment only, and no suits allowed).

PICT0001 Bar Review – Lounge Bohemia, London

The owner of the bar has designed the bar to create an atmosphere that is a tribute to vintage 60’s in Eastern Europe. Every little detail is attended to, from the original 60’s furniture and vintage lamps, to the drinks menus slyly hidden inside the original Czech hardback books (the equivalent to today’s penguin book series’). The background Jazz and seated-only policy of the bar lead to a relaxed and open atmosphere which encourages chat without the need for shouting. Given the small space available, tables are often shared, a feature which I have come to love as it has led to meeting a number of new friends through random encounters over cocktails. If you really wanted your own table you would need to book for a group of 5 to 8 people. At Lounge Bohemia there is no standing or seating at the bar, enabling the barman to fully concentrate on making the drinks.

PICT0003 Bar Review – Lounge Bohemia, London

On arrival to the bar you will be shown to your reserved seats and provided with water and (unless it is a Sunday evening) a few Czech inspired canapés served on Riki Watanabe trays (which we are reliably informed had to be sourced directly from Japan due to not being available in the UK). The nibbles themselves are well worth devoting some tasting time to, and if you decide to explore these a little further it is possible to order selections of cheese, meat or fish canapés, each selection consisting of four canapés.

A number of the cocktails also come presented on the Watanabe trays, although which ones do cannot be determined from the descriptions in the menu, and the glassware used in the bar is impressively designer. The cocktails themselves range from superbly prepared classics (made any which way you desire) to the more adventurous tasting (such as the Gipsytini, or the Lavender Crème Brûlée) right through to the molecular mixology drinks which, in their creation, seem to involve a full science lab’s worth of equipment. The results however are pure Jekyll with none of the Hyde. If you take the daring step of choosing to explore the full extent of these versions of molecular gastronomy then I can recommend requesting one of the five-course taster menus which consist of a full five rounds of molecular mixology masterpieces (all appropriately downsized to ensure you do actually make it to the fifth course!) and all beautifully presented. I would note at this point however that the five-course menu does have to be pre-ordered.

If you prefer to sit back with a full drink in front of you then a number of the molecular mixology drinks are available in full size on the menu, including one of my personal favorites the All Sorts Martini.

The genius behind both the bar concept and the full range of non-classic cocktails available at Lounge Bohemia is Paul Tvaroh, a self-trained molecular mixologist and passionate follower of the cocktail.

What’s in a name…?

Paul was possibly the first bartender to really introduce me to the difference it can make to a cocktail having it mixed by someone who has a real passion for the barman’s art.

PT Bar Review – Lounge Bohemia, London

I first met Paul in a small bar in Shoreditch (London), as discussed above, he now owns and runs Lounge Bohemia in which he is able to fully indulge his passion for inventing cocktails. It is this passion that I believe makes both his bar and his cocktails an experience worthwhile checking out.

Speaking with Paul about cocktails is an education in itself. I would recommend visiting the bar on a quiet night to ensure the best chance of being able to engage Paul in a discussion. Paul devotes the sort of dedication to research and creation of a new cocktail that an artist may devote to a piece of art intended for display at the MoMA in NY or the Tate in London. A cocktail that makes it onto the menu is often the result of extended hours of research, tastings, display testing and trial runs on trusted regular customers (having said that, there are a number of cocktails on the menu that have resulted from a single moment of pure inspiration by Paul!).

Paul’s passion currently lies in exploring the world of molecular mixology cocktails – that is creating cocktails in the same genre as the food at El Buli in Spain, or the Fat Duck in the UK. These cocktails are about as far removed from a Sea Breeze or a jug of Pimms as you can get, and to try one is to explore a whole new world of taste and texture. The molecular mixology cocktails I have tried have ranged from those based on classic cocktails such as the manhattan or the white russian, to the far more unusual ones such as the white chocolate truffle (which must be tried to be believed) and the Bohemian Breakfast. As such, Paul does not have a single signature drink, rather he has many. As an example of his cocktail repertoire, I set out below a recipe for one of his original ‘signature’ drinks, and a description of some of the more recent additions to the menu.

Putting the drinks aside for a moment (which is always difficult), as a bartender Paul prides himself on looking after his customers. Many bartenders have developed the skill of making the customer feel comfortable, and Paul is no exception, however whether you truly appreciate Paul’s conversation will depend (at least partially) on your own sense of humour. I would describe Paul as having an incredibly dry wit, and a love of sarcasm which is seldom fully appreciated, others have simply called him sardonic. As he does not restrict use of his humour (applying it in an even-handed manner to any and all visitors to the bar who engage him in conversation) this can inevitably lead to some confusion, although the cheeky gleam in Paul’s eye will usually give the game away.

loungebohemia06 Bar Review – Lounge Bohemia, London

All in all, Paul’s entertainment and cocktail skills, and more importantly the genuine feeling that he is really interested and enjoys his work and the whole business of cocktails makes Paul a bartender that I would pay a special visit to wherever he was working.

The only challenge remaining is whether or not you will be able to pronounce Paul’s surname – Tvaroh – to be honest most people don’t even try! Still, a rose by any other name…

Lounge Bohemia can be found at 1E Great Eastern Street, London, EC2A 3EJ.

Roberta (Bob) Simpson is a cocktail enthusiast and bar stool philosopher who can be found plying her trade at the best bars in London, Tokyo, New York and all places between.

Do you have a bar or bartender we need to know about? What makes the place so great? Let us know. Leave us a comment or send an email and tell us all about the place and the person.

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