Looking Glass Cocktail Club

49 Hackney Rd, London E2 7NX

As I balanced delicately on a window sofa, waiting for my “promptly” arriving friend, I pondered as one does. In a market so flooded with cocktails, how does a venue stand out from the crowd? Especially if they are Shoreditch-proper adjacent.

Of course, East London’s party-high street has gone downhill, purely from a quality standpoint: Hawking watered-down Pornstars and bad Caipirinhas to unsuspecting tourists and recent London relocators. But Hackney Rd has its fair share of high-quality watering holes where the drinks are strong, curated, and unsurprisingly costly. Equal Parts (a recent review) is an example of clever, understated drink-based elegance. So, I am led back to my original question, how does the new menu from a (vaguely) Alice in Wonderland-themed bar stand out from others of its ilk?

The answer is gimmick, and I mean that in the very best way. Experimental, overly themed, a touch ludicrous, and childishly enjoyable. The space is a world of soft warm lights, comfortable Chesterfields, and swanky graffiti-style artwork. Through a mirror door (I told you gimmick) a French rock and roll dance class was going on, sparsely populated and illusive. Is it doing the Jitterbug while in a Breton stripe? The reflective door offers club nights, cabaret, and live music, basically, everything you would want if you had sunk £50 worth of cocktails and were unwilling to book an Uber home.

Industry legends Olesia Postnova and Lee Baker have crafted a molecular menu. At the risk of sounding facetious, I assume that this just means complex and scientific. As surely every cocktail is molecular? I mean everything is, isn’t it? I don’t call myself a molecular writer, just a writer.

We move on, the new menu is themed around Fables & Tales, and we are taken along a taste journey (don’t threaten me with a good time) by Postnova, who is passionate and immensely knowledgeable about drinks. A kindred spirit you could say.

Starting low the aperitivos step up to bat. By this point, my friend graces me with her presence and we vault into these soft Mediterranean drops. Crafty Kitty (puss in boots) is an Italian Amaro-based tall drink giving wafts, remarkably, of an English cottage garden, heavy on the wild oregano. Medicinal, almost Pastis-like (with less anise), the garnish sprig of rosemary cleaning your nostril is the only downside to this drink, allow the soda water fizz to cool your heated brow. My friend mentions it tastes like a boiled sweet, but as you will see this crops up too many times to be credible feedback. Its twin The Goes Around Comes Around (Chinese legend of the white snake) has Jasmine and gin explosions with flashes of gunpowder (don’t ask me how). A lemonish buck, with light floral undercuts, a lovely lower booze stand-in for the Negroni. Lubricated we are getting into the rhythm of this liquid pilgrimage.

Next, we verge into the land of theatre, and my little button eyes twinkle. The Tin Man Tipple (Wizard of Oz) comes in a metal beaker (obviously) but with a red bobbing helium balloon attached. Postnova burns some straw on the rim of the cup and our little corner is filled with the smells of a Kansas farm. I don’t think we’re in Be At One anymore Toto. For those rolling their eyes, hold your gaze. It’s fun, it’s silly, AND most importantly it’s uplifting. Tequila, hay liquor (whatever that is) smoke itself, and MUSHROOM? This ABV heavy hitter will get you texting your ex after 4, or crying when your balloon inevitably pops on someone’s cigarette. You have been warned.

Not all soar to such heights though, the mythical element of the Trickery In Stripes (Peru’s Pisco sour) is orange blossom, barely noticeable. No legend can make that more exciting, and the Irish element in Woolly Peril is a heady mix of Jameson, rye bread syrup, Guinness foam, and ginger wine. A Poitín laced-based goblet that is an overly fussy honey, butter beer-like Irish coffee alternative. My drinking companion likened it to a…..rhubarb and custard boiled sweet, but we know how much she can be trusted.

The Russian-based Little Red Riding Hood beverage was probably the most perplexing thing I have ever put in my mouth, and I’ve put some weird things in there (easy now). The top is pink foam tasting like a beetroot latte, and the bottom is a tart double vodka martini. Named Mr Wolf this seems very fitting as the whole experience is like falling face down into a clump of damp forest. Dill doesn’t help things, and the overall effect is rather sickening, a little scary, and well beyond even my brave palette.

The Australian Slither & Rock is all chocolate mint and gin, chartreuse with wattleseed pods that give an herbal and vaguely addictive quality to it. Inventive, but a rather plain short drink for such a romping creation myth of the rainbow serpent. I half expected a snake to be sat on the glass slowly forking its tongue at us after the Tin Man Tipple’s theatrics.

But Looking Glass (clearly) isn’t scared to experiment. A cocktail based on Zimbabwe’s zero waste policy had to be scrapped as the recycling of the left-over garnishes proved to be too syrupy. Lions’ mane crops up (with all its mental agility properties) and cocktails like the Peach Boy represent both the Martinis/Manhattan’s of the world admirably. They are doing fresh and fantastic; some would say molecular things with drinks. Do you want to go to your local and suffer through a bad mojito that tastes of warm J2O and mint cordial? Or do you want to tumble down a rabbit hole, on a taste adventure and end up wandering home with a floating red balloon like a drunken version of the clown from IT? After all if drinking strange-looking, oddly named potions was good enough for Alice, it’s certainly good enough for you!

Book yourself and table HERE, or pop on down for a tipple?ck