We’ve come to expect all manner of things from a cocktail bar. It might be hidden through a fridge, have a wheel of fortune, be in an old loo or offer everything you see in it for sale. One thing we definitely do expect, though, is booze.
Not at BYOC, where the clue is in the name: you have to bring your own alcohol.
This new Camden bar is the third of its kind, with the first opening in Covent Garden early last year followed this Spring by an outlet in Brighton.
The concept is more than a gimmick. It allows the bars to avoid the legislation involved with storing alcohol on site, opening up a whole array of properties that would not otherwise be suitable.
Guests are asked to pre-book and pay £25 (£20 in Covent Garden) for a two hour drinking session, throughout which they’ll be treated to bespoke cocktails made with the alcohol they’ve brought along and the bar’s extensive range of mixers, syrups, juices, purées, herbs and spices.
While the Covent Garden bar is cosy and candlelit, Camden’s basement space is decked out like a plush Prohibition gambling den. Think low lights, floral wallpaper and several non-functioning roulette tables, which make a good cover for very much in-use bar areas.
Propped on stools at your own private ‘bar’, you have the almost undivided attention of one of the smartly suited bar team whose job it is to turn the booze you brought along into bespoke cocktails.
We took along a versatile bottle of gin for the occasion, but liked another table’s idea of many miniatures for more variety. Still, we were pretty impressed with the range of drinks we got back — from a dry martini to a full-bodied Negroni via a twist on an Old Fashioned that used gin in place bourbon, along with a number of less classic and nameless creations that matched the styles we picked.
It was a fairly quiet week-night when we visited, and as such we had a bartender to ourselves for much of the time. This helped us get through a fairly impressive seven drinks in the allotted time, though in the interests of responsible drinking we will point out that they weren’t all particularly strong, and that many came in smaller than normal measures. Honest.
We’re told that quick and available service is par for the course even on busy nights, and given the room can only seat drinkers at manned bars, we have no problem believing that.
If you fancy adding an extra element, BYOC is a prime candidate for a game of challenge the bartender. Bring something weird, wacky and not all that wonderful along and see what they can make it into. You might want to make sure you have a more pleasant back-up, though.
BYOC is at 9-11 Camden High Street, NW1 7JE (in the basement).