Was absolutely everything better prior to all this Covid mess? I’m sceptical but even Uber driver seems to chatter about their charmed life in the before times (“Me, you know, I used to drive Luxe back then”). Still, there are plenty of cheering signs flickering that all is not lost for London yet. There are still shenanigans to be had — or so I’ve been finding.
A first glance at Side Hustle, the wittily-named, wood-panelled, marble-topped bar sat to the side of New York’s imported NoMad hotel, suggests a poker-faced place swearing allegiance to elegance. You’d notice the brass rails, the dark booths lined with yew-green leather and might question how you’ve accidentally ended up in a snug in Grand Central Station. Ah, you might then chuck into the bargain , this is one of those Manhattan, Old Fashioned haunts. We did that already at Scarfes in the Rosewood.
But perceptive sorts will clock the flamingo hue of the menu’s pages, the people sipping from silver skulls full of crushed ice and lemon slices, or the tall glasses of drink the colour of Lady Penelope’s Roller. Because despite the wide-eyed, “who, me?” innocence of its initial appearance, Side Hustle has a wonderful way with waywardness. I nudge my friend, pointing to a bottle of rum that looks as though, until recently, it probably lived in a chest under sand marked with an X. “It looks old and dangerous,” I say. “Like Harrison Ford?” he replies. Now seems as good a time as any to mention the cocktails are served ox-strength only.
Fortunately, they don’t taste it, and the flirty bartenders here are perceptive, receptive sorts. As per, I want the paradox of something refreshing that’s also short and boozy. I’m told to wait for my surprise (oh, how I loathe surprises), then a Detox-Retox arrives. It’s Scotch with two rums — one pineapple, one not — stirred in with coconut water. Says bartender Stephen: “I say it’s a Piña Colada served as an Old Fashioned.” Piña Coladas and their theme tunes do not thrill me — I walked enough in the rain on Monday, and getting soaked when you live out of a suitcase, as I am for the moment, is no fun at all — but I am won over, though I can’t place the flavour.
Now seems as good a time as any to mention the cocktails are served ox-strength only.
“Chocolate milk?” I venture. Stephen, on loan from NY, fixes me with a you-crazy-Brits stare. Meanwhile, my friend misses this as he tries to break the record for quickest consumption of a whisky sour (they call it a Start Me Up, and it’s sort of one, but sort of a penicillin too, and the mix is bloody good).
I like silly things; I am fond of cocktail umbrellas. So too were a group at the end of the bar who shrieked gleefully at the setting down of a glass trophy topped with them. Under the brollies — and the toy parrots and cockatoos — was a Titanic-sinking portion of ice and perhaps a gallon of rum. The tap on the side of the thing was swiftly unlocked and so the laughing lasted.
“Is it pricey, this place?” my friend Max wonders. “Yes,” I say. “But I’d rather save for one good night here than a few crap ones somewhere cheaper.” Try it. You might feel the same.
Side Hustle at the NoMad, 28 Bow St, WC2E. Most drinks around £16, thenomadhotel.com/london