Hidden down an alleyway just off the famous Fleet Street in central London, the new Merchant House is a city bar, refreshingly free of the suited clientele that dominate the area.
The property is the second from the Merchant House Group, created by Nate Brown and Lewis Hayes, who are also co-founders of The London Bar Consultants, a pioneering drinks organisation designed to educate the hospitality industry.
Home to more than 500 whiskies, the bar is aimed squarely at the connoisseur and seeks to “reclaim” the famous fire water for a modern audience.
Visiting on a Thursday evening in late summer, the mood is quiet, but jovial, with couples sharing elaborate cocktails and a smattering of serious drinkers at the counter.
The menu – which can be purchased as a standalone book for £12 – is packed with floral cocktails, while the bar itself is dotted with fresh stems.
In turn, the décor is curated to bring nature inside, with the expected bric-a-brac artfully displayed among fresh flowers on the shelves of gleaming bottles.
Materials such as aged paint, brass, and vintage prints make it the perfect spot to while away an evening with friends.
Staff at Merchant House will happily take the time to talk you through what is on offer as you perch on a plush velvet upholstered stool, explaining an ambition to overcome preconceived ideas about whiskey.
Rejecting the power of labels, Merchant House Fleet Street focuses all the enjoyment of the spirit onto the flavours within the bottle.
First up, I order a sazerac, mixing cognac, rye, sugar, bitters and a mere hint of absinthe.
It is prepared with precision and presented with panache – an excellent drink.
The menu avoids what Nate and Lewis brand the ‘armchair’ cocktails often associated with whiskey and instead seek to use botanicals and blooms.
Signature serves include Emigré, a heady blend of Pure Pot Still Whiskey, apple, rhubarb and elderflower, and King’s Country, a zesty drink made with Offaly Whiskey, fresh citrus, peach, basil and salt.
Nate and Lewis sum up their latest project as such: “Merchant House of Fleet Street is our most exciting project to date.
“The world of whiskey is not just expanding at an exponential rate, but the entire identity of the category is shifting away from stuffy armchairs and dark corners to fresh, floral and feminine spaces with delicious, invigorating cocktails.
“We believe that we are contributing to this in our own small way, and that Merchant House of Fleet Street will pave the way for this new personality of whiskey.”
To accompany the second drink, we are also served jamón, cut by hand from a full pig’s leg behind the bar.
A nice touch, the serving illustrates the authentic nature of Merchant House Fleet Street.
For those who wish to know more, there are also whisky masterclasses available for £50 per person, offering a whisky cocktail on arrival and the chance to taste five whiskies, including a rare bottling from the bar’s private collection.
Originally hailing from County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, Nate Brown has worked in the industry for ten years.
He has a passion and renowned insight for products and staff development within hospitality.
This is reflected in his affiliation with the ‘Drop of Irish’ collective where he is part of a growing number of advocates and ambassadors for Irish spirits.
Over the last decade, Lewis Hayes has carved a reputation as one of the industry’s most passionate and proactive educators, both on the trade and consumer sides of the coin.
Nowhere is this more evident than in his ongoing campaign to give rum the status it deserves.
His drive has taken him all over the globe, working with international clients and brands alike to structure coherent and sustainable business models and educating and inspiring scores of staff.
Together, their Merchant House Group of bars is the proof that their unique and insightful approach to hospitality translates into sustainable and profitable business.
Find out more on the official website.