Shrub & Shutter founders bring playful nostalgia to relaunched Alphabet Bar

Kate Malczewski

Kate Malczewski

25 September 2018

Alphabet Bar is back with a bang. After the original Beak Street location shut down five years ago, the cocktail haven has reopened in Islington with a new lease of life.

In its ‘90s heyday, the first incarnation of Alphabet Bar was known as a regular spot for Soho’s creative in-crowd – trendy, quirky and perhaps ever so slightly pretentious.

The new Alphabet has the potential to attract an equally ardent following. It’s got a sufficiently hip atmosphere, with distressed wood floors, white brick walls, an aqua-blue back bar and an abundance of graphic art. It’s also got great food – a range of Mediterranean sharing plates created by chef Yaz Khadiri.

But what truly sets the relaunched Alphabet apart is its drinks selection. Developed by Chris Edwards and Dave Tregenza, the masterminds behind drinks consultancy Salts of the Earth, the cocktails bring an approachable playfulness to the place.

Redcomb Pubs, the operator that owns Alphabet, enlisted Edwards and Tregenza to shape its beverage offerings, and it’s no great surprise that the duo have done a good thing with their latest project. Edwards and Tregenza previously made a name for themselves through their funky south London bars Shrub & Shutter and First Aid Box. They were even shortlisted for Imbibe's Innovators of the Year award in 2017.

Now, with their first two bars running smoothly on their own, the pair has moved over to Alphabet full-time.

‘Sometimes you have to trust your people to do their thing,’ Tregenza told Imbibe, who is serving as bar manager at the new Angel outfit. Edwards, meanwhile, has taken the reins as the venue’s head of operations.

At Alphabet, their signature creativity has manifested itself in the form of a menu that pays tribute to the original Soho bar.

The first section, Re-invention, puts twists on classic drinks – particularly those with a ‘90s flair. There’s the Mint Chip Mojito, a decadent mix of El Dorado 3yo Rum, Xeco Fino Sherry, mint chocolate chip ice cream, fresh lime and mint soda; while the Dry Watermelon Martini marries Wry Vodka, Campari, fresh watermelon and sugar.

The second section, Invention, takes an equally bold approach, with original creations supported by big flavours. Drinks like Smoke Signal – Evan Williams Bourbon infused with sweet BBQ, That Boutique-y's Spit Roasted Pineapple Gin, balanced bitters, bacon and smoke – pack a powerful punch.

And while these drinks sound slightly outrageous on paper, the ones that really stand out are those that deliver an even more outrageous experience in the glass.

Take the devastatingly pink High as a Kite, for instance. With That Boutique-y Finger Lime Gin, rhubarb bitters, hibiscus, fresh lemon and uppers, it’s a delicately tart drink that is lovely on its own – but with its garnish, a capsule filled with beetroot sugar that you can add to taste, it’s both entertaining and even more delicious.

In addition to 26 cocktails (like the Alphabet – get it?), the menu also boasts a page of zero-proof drinks, including Clarified Cream Soda and Pomegranate & Tomato Cordial.

From interactive garnishes to thoughtful non-alcoholic offerings, each element of the new Alphabet Bar seems to be a part of Tregenza and Edwards’ inclusive, fun approach. It isn’t likely that this Islington reincarnation will be accused of pretentiousness anytime soon.

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