By Rali Chorbadzhiyska (Bulgarian version)
All the way down Portobello Road, past the characteristic Nothing Hill shops for books, antiques, stage clothing, and jewelry, number 171 shelters the Portobello Star Bar – London’s oldest gin distilling place!
My parents came to London for a long weekend, so we ended up in the bar upon their request to visit this cultural landmark; or just have some gin cocktails.
It’s 7pm on a Friday. Upon entering, we are greeted by a happy bearded host who informs us the only seats left at the moment are at the bar. No problem!
The people inside are a colourful crowd. The age is somewhere between 20 and 50, the bar is open to all. The men are predominantly wearing suits but no one inside looks too formal in their languid posture, resting upon the couches, the chairs or at the bar.
Dim lighting, candles and mellow up-beat music set up the alternative mood in the cosy bar. According to the bartender, the founders used to distill the gin there (upstairs) but when it became too small they moved the production to the Bar Hotel down the road.
When you sit down at the Star Bar the greetings from the staff come with a cute little glass of water that they masterfully refill when you’re not looking! That’s when you turn to the menu.
The pamphlet of the menu features the history of the place, iconic drinks and new additions. If I were to write down the ingredients of the cocktails we had, I would have had to leave my hand in there. Conveniently, they let you take the pamphlet with you and spread the word!
My father goes for ‘Portobello Road Gin and Soyer’s Nectar’.
You like Soyer’s Nectar? – comes a testing question from the bartender.
Reason is, as it turns out, not everyone is into a combination of blue Curaçao, gin and other secret ingredients. We were and it was delicious!
I went for ‘The Bramble’, which was absolutely amazing! Mixing Portobello’s original gin with refreshing blackberry liqueur was a great choice. Not sure if I were supposed to finish the mint and berry decorations. I did, I do not regret it.
My mum turned out the biggest experimenter of all of us with her choice of ‘Flash O’ Lightening’ whose ingredients included a ‘cayenne pepper’! The exotic cocktail was served in a classy tall glass, full of the fiery liquid (both in colour and taste)!
After we take a few mandatory selfies which, if it wasn’t for the foreign language and the time we spent choosing a drink, gave us away as tourists.
Where are you from?
The bartender and I talk about Bulgaria, London, the Portobello Star and then I feel it’s time to fish for some gossip:
So what celebrities come here often?
Models, is the answer. We did not have any luck on our visit, but apparently the Gin paradise is popular with people from the rank of Kate Moss!
As we speak, I notice another of the bartender’s colleagues talking on the Bar’s phone which looks like a normal home device. A potentially useless detail that, however, made me smile at the comfortable realness of the place and its people.
Meanwhile, at the far end of the bar a few of the staff members are performing some tricks of alchemistry! They are preparing a ‘potion’, mixing sugar or flour powder in a large tin container, then stirring and adding more unknowns. By the smiles on their faces, you can see they love their job which allows for these crazy activities! The creation of a cocktail is a form of art!
We ask for the bill (As seen from the menu, prices are standard for London, even surprising for the quality of alcohol and service you get as a customer) and right before we go they hand us each a shot glass!
As a compliment, everyone in the bar gets a shot of Jägermeister that completes the experience!
The only thing to be aware of is the flight of stairs on the way to the toilets – be careful with the amount of cocktails and shots, you might have difficulties reaching! 😀
*Photos by Vladimir Chorbadzhiyski