Drink Here: Nine Lives, London BridgeBy Charlie Roper
I can’t imagine Nine Lives gets much passing trade. It’s tucked away in a back alley between the train tracks and the road, at the top of Bermondsey street and some 5 minutes away from London Bridge station – let’s be honest, hardly prime real estate. After blundering my way around I came across a neon white sign, 9 lines like those scratched into the walls of a cell by some forlorn inmate, I took a punt that this was it.
Nine Lives: The Lowdown
Whisked downstairs by a friendly lady outside I came into a small subterranean space, dim but not dark and with a décor which I would describe as Tiki Bar meets Scandi Garage Den. Derelicte chic (Zoolander for those too young) with its eclectic mix of slightly shabby upholstery and purposely mismatched furniture has long been in vogue for trendy watering holes, but if you scratch beneath the surface you will realise that Nine Lives is not merely paying lip service to renewal and sustainability. It is instead at the core of their ethos and of everything they do. All the furniture has been reclaimed or upcycled, the sound system was loving restored from discarded parts and even the staff uniforms are second hand. There is nothing contrived here.
Nine Lives: Drink
The menu is extremely well thought through. Cocktail menus are often nothing short of bewildering, with lists of obscure ingredients giving the drinker little clue as to what it actually might taste like. Whilst there is a page of house specials like the Tori Bird, the Ephemeral and the Crossfire Hurricane (not a clue), the rest of the menu zeroes in on a particular spirit. Each spirit has a page with a signature cocktail; think daiquiri for rum, negroni for gin etc, with a classic, their twist and a guest bartenders twist. No more pick and hope orders here.
I like Old Fashioneds. I love Old Fashioneds. So I went for a Regular Joe, the house’s twist on the classic, with Bulleit Rye and poached banana syrup. Like BBQ bananas or banana bread soaked in delicious booze, it was superb. An off hand question to the bartender, Cal, about the difference between rye and straight bourbon launched a demo, tasting and in depth discussion. A very good sign.
Further conversation with Cal revealed the continuing green credentials of this place as the menu shoots for zero waste and as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. Queue the Kelross Daiquiri which has all the freshness and vibrancy of the original but without the air miles. Bramley apple juice (hand pressed from apples grown in the owners garden) and local honey provide the counterpoint to the rum but are in no way a pale substitute for the original. This is everything and more. Very clever. Very green.
Having arrived very early I expected to have the place to myself for the duration of my visit however by 6:30pm it was buzzing and door staff were already turning those without reservations away. I now see why. For as difficult as it may be to find this is now a not-so hidden gem. So let that serve as a warning: get a table booked ASAP.
For more information on Nine Live, visit the website here.
8 Holyrood St, London SE1 2EL