There are speakeasies, and then there’s The Vault at Milroy’s of Soho. While there’s no doubt that London has been blessed with an abundance of these clandestine drinking dens over the last few years, their selling point has traditionally been seclusion and secrecy. But in this rather crowded marketplace, The Vault is one establishment demanding you sit up and take notice.
The Vault’s pedigree is undeniable; Milroy’s – who owns this basement bar – is a world-famous whisky shop in Soho. It has been open since 1964 and sells the widest range of whiskies in the UK (if not the world). Martyn “Simo” Simpson, formerly of The Coal Vaults, and his team have certainly done a remarkable job turning the premises around. Beyond the ground floor bookcase and down a dusty staircase we found one of the most authentic speakeasies in London, all exposed brickwork, dark rich wood, Chesterfield sofas and secretive booths.
If you are not visiting in a large group, the best place to sit is on the bar stools right next to the bartenders, where you can watch them work their magic. During our visit, they were affable and conversational, joyfully explaining the concept behind their cocktails. This is a bar where you are given time to appreciate their creations, rather than fighting through the masses only to be rewarded with a bottle of flat beer.
The cocktail menu undergoes a complete revamp on a seasonal basis, and we couldn’t resist trialling the winter listing. The current highlights included the so named: hot and cold, liquid dream, Japanese rose garden and the bloody bandito. With hot and cold, we found we were practically getting 2 cocktails for the price of 1. The cold section with bryhh, dolin dry, maraschino, angostura and orange bitters aims to open up the pores in your tongue before your senses are invaded with michters rye infused with orange zest. Unsurprisingly America’s oldest whiskey variety tasted much stronger than its advertised 42.4 ABV.
Thankfully, there were more serene options on offer; liquid dream was like an old-fashioned on stabilisers. Pear, honey and rosemary infused bourbon combined was as calm and soothing as a gentle breeze. The Japanese rose garden tasted as delicate as a rose petal with its thoughtful mixture of nikka by the barrel, belsazar rose vermouth, mirto rosso and chambord garnished with a frozen raspberry. In the bloody bandito, the harshness of the tequila blanco was cleverly counterbalanced with the high sugar content from beetroot.
Here, any imaginings of a fruity cocktail can be left at the door. The Vault of Soho is for genuine cocktail lovers that appreciate and understand their spirits. Milroy’s is already London’s oldest whisky shop and at this rate, no one will be beating this record anytime soon, particularly if there’s any truth to the rumours of a possible extension to the first floor of the building.
Words by Baldwin Ho