Move over boring old BYO – there’s a new type of ‘bring your own’ in town, and it’s not a restaurant but a bar. Yes, B.Y.O.C is a ‘bring your own cocktails’ bar where you take your own bottles and the mixologist makes bespoke drinks for you.
The Juice Club juice bar in the west end has just opened B.Y.O.C. in its tiny basement. Here’s how it works: you take along a tipple of your choice, a base spirit such as vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whisky, brandy or liqueur. Wine, beer, champagne or something quirky or unusual are also okay. Then you pay £20 entrance at the unassuming-looking juice bar counter, and ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’-style door behind opens magically, leading you down winding haunted house-staircase. It’s like being let into a secret.
The dim, dinky basement, lit entirely by candles, is almost tiny enough to fit into your pocket. You’re surrounded by bare brick walls, leather-bound books, a gramophone, and glassware hanging overhead like chandeliers. By the time you sit down, it already feels like you’re partaking in some hush-hush underground activity.
The mixologist, Dan Thomson, wheels over an antique Italian drinks trolley, laden with fruit and vegetable juices from upstairs, fresh fruits, herbs, spices, flavoured salts, bitters, syrups and cordials. Then there’s a buzz of excitement as you produce your bottle.
We’d originally planned to take something languishing in the drinks cabinet…ahem, we mean set aside for special occasions. We were torn between Luxardo cream liqueur and Kamm & Sons ginseng spirit, but in the end plumped for handbag-friendly miniature Gabriel Boudier bottles in assorted flavours. Really, who wants to lug full-sized ones halfway across town? (Though we discovered afterwards that there’s a supermarket nearby.)
Thomson asked us to choose our liqueur flavour (‘peach’), a base spirit (‘gin’) and whether we wanted our cocktail sweet or sour. Our liquid creation was exquisitely fruity and refreshing, with a great balance of flavours and, more importantly, exactly to our taste.
The same procedure followed the second time around, when we were also asked whether we wanted our drink fruity, minty, spicy, floral, bitter and so on. The resulting jewel-coloured cassis-vodka concoction was simply stunning. It’s rare to be able to see a mixologist in full flow at such close range, adding creative riffs here and there, not unlike the background jazz tunes.
And that is what we loved most about B.Y.O.C: in lesser hands, this would just be a gimmicky concept, but Thomson’s top-notch mixology skills were enough to silence the sceptics. And no wonder: this award-winning barman has worked in Nobu Park Lane and the acclaimed Zenna Bar; though it’s his business partner and co-owner, entrepreneur Aleksey Nikulin, who came up with the mind-boggling idea.
Some people may baulk at the £20 entrance charge, but it covers the cost of additional ingredients that make up your cocktail (the venue has no alcohol license to store booze) plus, of course, the actual creation of your drinks. Food platters will be introduced shortly; and plans are already afoot to open branches.
‘Hidden gem’ is a cliché – but BYOC is truly hidden. And it is a gem. But trust us, it won’t stay hidden for long.
By Sejal Sukhadwala