For the last few years, food and lifestyle magazines have been on a tear, with considerable coverage devoted to craft cocktails (the classic Negroni seems to be the current favorite) and the latest coffee trends. Wanting to find out more on the current state of the art in mixed and steamed drinks we decided to head straight to the source. Our destination, Bar Termini in London’s Soho district. That’s where we find owner and mixologist, Tony Conigliaro, or “The Bartender with a Lab Coat”.
While working as a bartender to support his art career Tony discovered that there was untapped potential in mixing drinks. He shifted his focus and from then on made cocktails his canvas. With experience at some of the London’s best-known temples of drink, Isola, Lonsdale, and Roka, under his belt, in 2009 he opening his first outpost in Islington: 69 Colebrooke Row, or as it is sometimes known from its prohibition-era-like obscurity, “the bar with no name”.
This is the place you should go to experience your sense of taste like never before. 69 Colebrooke’s intimate space has only a small bar and just a few tables. With a loyal following of regulars and locals, it fills up nightly, like only a place with a great reputation (and no sign) can.
Tony’s approach to the cocktail arts is more along the lines of storytelling than simply mixing drinks. His cocktails often draw from literature. There’s “The Rose”, reminiscent of walking through an English Summer garden with Champagne in hand. Or “The Prairie”, Tony’s interpretation of the drink Sally Bowles, the infamous character in the musical Cabaret, partakes of every morning for breakfast.
To hear Tony expound on the nature of bitters, scents, and a plethora of other mad ingredients that pop into his head, he seems at times more like a “cocktail wizard” than a bartender.
To give you an idea of an ingredient pallet Tony might draw from, here is a sample of things included in his recent creations: Japanese Shiso leaves, bee pollen from Transylvania, Horse Radish Vodka, and Tomato Yolk to mention just a few. Studying the menu at 69 Colebrooke elicits a curiosity that makes you want to discover each story’s flavor. Some of the drinks we sampled were called, Death in Venice, Manhattan Steel Corp. Initials, and Silent Neon Flower. With names like those, you just have to try them.
If your interest extends beyond the mere drinking of Tony’s creations you can also join one of his master classes and take your cocktail prep skills to a whole new level. Tony himself teaches most of the classes, so you can, for a brief time, be an apprentice of the master. A great experience to try if you’re planning a trip to London.
On Compton Street in Soho, we find Tony’s classic Italian style coffee and cocktail bar, Bar Termini. It’s Tony’s latest venture and a good theme choice for a neighborhood with deep Italian roots. We sit down to chat on one of Bar Termini’s mint green banquets. With the marble bar, exposed brick walls and suitcases stacked on train car luggage racks, the place has the classic feel of an old train station bar, buzzing with people up early and out late. A great place to talk about coffee and Negroni.
As we sample Bar Termini’s espressos, Tony pulls out his phone to show us the latest in a video series, this one produced in bar Termini. In this short a group of Soho locals share their personal recollections of Soho between 1930 and 1970. They relate that after the war affordable ingredients for drinks were hard to come by. In Italy, Negroni was plentiful and inexpensive so Italian immigrants imported it to London, making this a cheap and popular drink.
One of Bar Termini’s white-coated wait staff comes over and pours a bright red liquid into a small glass from a beautiful bottle. It’s the latest of Tony’s projects, a classic Negroni. The hand-crafted “Classico” is aged and batched at sipping strength, designed to be served chilled, straight from the bottle. The perfect gift for that friend back home who could not make the trip to Soho with you.
Keep your eyes peeled. Bar Termini has a tiny street frontage and it’s easily missed. But that’s part of its appeal. For the perfect espresso or a late afternoon drink, stop by on your next Soho visit.
We strongly recommend making reservations online for both places. Bar Termini during the daytime is less crowded. We visited in the late morning just before lunch. To check for masterclasses, opening hours, events and directions at Bar Termini or 69 Colebrook Row go to; www.bar-termini.comwww.69colebrookerow.com
Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger
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