The Worship St. Whistling Shop is kind of a mouthful to say, and if you didn’t know better you’d think that this dimly lit basement level bar is yet another riff on the speakeasy, but looks can be deceiving. Rather than being yet another Prohibition Era reenactment bar, Worship St. Whistling Shop is home to some of the most inventive and groundbreaking cocktails in the world.
From a physical perspective, the Worship St. Whistling Shop is actually three different bar experiences in one. The first, a fairly classic bar area with booths, tables and a small walk-up bar looks a lot like many of the modern speakeasies. Another area features a long communal table which completely shifts the focus from the bar and the bartenders to the experience of drinking and connecting with others.
A final area is a small private room with an antique bathtub in the center converted into a table, called the Dram Shop. This private area is unlike any I’ve seen in the world. The small room features a case of extremely rare gins (some as old as the 1920s) along with one of the most extravagant honor bars we’ve ever seen.
As fantastic a bar Worship St. Whistling Shop is physically, it’s the drinks program created by Bar Manager Ryan Chetiyawardana that makes this place so amazing. Chetiyawardana has thrown out the rule book when it comes to making cocktails and taken a reductive approach to the flavors, ingredients and techniques used to produce cocktails.
As with Tony C’s Drink Factory, Chetiyawardana has his own lab at Worship St., complete with a Rotovap (a pressurized still which enables distillation at lower temperatures) and something he affectionately calls his ‘Kaboom Still’. “My girlfriend calls it the kaboom still, because she’s convinced once of these days it’s going to blow up”, explains Chetiyawardana.
The drink menu at Worship St. Whistling Shop reads like a jazz riff on a classic album. Classic drinks get complete reboots with ingredients and techniques that are almost beyond belief. Luckily the menu has a glossary, which is essential to decode ingredients like “Walnut Ketchup” (which is a combination of port wine, green walnut, chocolate, saffron and spice).
One of the most outrageous cocktails on the Worship St. Whistling Shop menu is the Radiation Aged Cocktail, which combines Diplomatico Rum, chip pan bitters, Campari, Dubonnet, Absinthe and Grenadine. The mix is taken down to a local university and actually irradiated.
Chetiyawardana, who comes from a family of radiologists, discovered that spirits react to radiation in very much the same way that fats do, and that he could break down some of the harsher elements in this cocktail via ‘aging it’ using radiation. Unaged, this cocktail is a collision of very strong flavors, but when irradiated these flavors mellow and mingle in a way that creates interesting flavor combinations between them.
The Champagne Gin Fizz, which is gin, lemon and sugar, is a new take on one of the early classic cocktails. Chetiyawardana reinvigorates this very basic cocktail by eliminating the traditional soda water, creating the carbonation using methode champenoise and actually fermenting the sugar with yeast with the rest of the cocktail in a champagne bottle. The result is a wonderfully fizzy and flavorful experience. The remnants from the yeast fermentation result in a note that complements the gin, lemon and sugar in a drink that is amazingly balanced.
Worship St. Whistling Shop has an extensive range of barrel aged cocktails on the menu (the barrel aged cocktail craze actually had its roots in the UK) , but rather than just put classic cocktails in barrels, Chetiyawardana uses the barrel as a flavor ingredient with drinks that are reconstructions of classic spirits. The Worship Street ‘Whiskey’ is Balvenie Spirit, beech, maple, peat syrup, and new oak; WS ‘Old Tom’ is Plymouth Gin, sweet spices, sugar and sherry oak; and, WS ‘Genever’ – gin, Caol Ila Scotch, green malt, spices, and sherry oak.
These barrel aged ‘spirits’ are either served direct from the cask or mixed in cocktails. It’s an inventive approach to barrel aging in a bar and the results are liquid thesis’ on the composition of flavors.
In the US many mixologists are focused on the ‘perfect’ recreation of classic cocktails or inventive uses for spirits. In the UK, at places like Worship St. Whistling Shop the focus is more on flavors and the techniques which impact those flavors. The results are more than theoretical libation experiments, they are complex and balanced flavor experiences which are simply mindblowing.
The Worship St. Whistling Shop is located at 63 Worship St, London EC2A 2DU.