The Bonneville

July 27, 2015

43 Lower Clapton Rd, London E5, UK

It’s hard to imagine what to expect from a bar trying to make absinthe sexy again – a drink that’s usually reserved for nutters and raging drunks. Its high percentage and luminous green colour has literally sent people away with the green fairies. Famous absinthe drinkers throughout time have often lacked in sanity like famous painters Salavdor Dali and Van Gogh. Is the return of this eccentric drink called for?

I line my stomach and smoke several cigarettes before journeying to The Bonneville. I can feel my liver tugging at my side, trying to escape. I think maybe I have pushed it too far this time. I’ve had absinthe many times in the past, usually resulting in a scrunched face and a prayer to the porcelain god. It felt like I had met my match in a high alcohol content aniseed beverage but I’m hoping that this bar can help me overcome my demons.

The Bonneville Bar Review Hackney
The Bonneville Toilets

It’s a slightly small bar located just a short walk from Hackney Central. I see many crazies on the way, cursing and spluttering over their dented tins of value beer. I feel comfort in the fact that when it comes to leaving, I might blend in rather than stand out after being fuelled up on absinthe.

The Bonneville looks slightly insidious with a Victorian style about it. A genuine deer’s head is mounted on the wall which is being pointed out by a rugged man who is so enraptured with it that he asks the bar to name a price. He huffs and leaves after hearing that it’s not for sale. But so many things in the bar look like they’d be the type of thing David Dickinson would swoon over. Even the basement toilets hadn’t been spared any detail. The floors are lined with smoke as a tinkering of piano can be heard in the background. It all feels a bit gloomy but in the best way, and a perfect setting for trying this 18th century drink.

The bar staff welcome us with chilled glasses and a quality but messy selection of food that proceeds to fly out of my mouth whenever I speak. The bartender Ruairi is dressed in formal attire and tells us of his eager relationship and history with this mystic spirit. They have roughly 7 different brands of absinthe ranging from around 65% abv. We are to try 6 drinks made with Ruairi’s choice absinthe, god rest my soul.

We begin with La Louche – just absinthe traditionally blended with water and sugar – impressively done with their Absinthe Tower. The tower (below) looks like an antique and is mainly used for shedding water droplets into the glass of absinthe and sugar. It’s a strong punch of a drink to start with, but a Blue Peter-style “Here’s-one-I-made-earlier” concoction is brought out that tastes much more manageable.

The Bonneville Bar Review Hackney
The Absinthe Tower

Once I got over the initial struggle of drinking the resilient aniseed, everything becomes much more painless. The rest of the absinthe-loaded menu is made perfectly with mixers and spirits which mask that face wincing quality that absinthe has. Some of the cocktails are impeccably sweet like The Maureque which tastes like marzipan. The Sazerac (which is not too dissimilar from an Old Fashioned) blows me away. I can barely taste the absinthe at all and I begin craving an all night binge just solely on this drink. Other notable concoctions include the cucumber infused Green Beast and the “hair of the dog” handy Corpse Reviver No 2. We begin wondering about that age-old phrase and imagine people from the Victorian era licking dogs just to get rid of their hangover, but sadly the actual meaning is far too boring compared to our absinthe riddled minds.

After several ice cold glasses and several slurry conversations, I begin to feel the gravitational pull and decide to call it a night. I stumble on to a nearby bus and ask the disgruntled driver to tell me when to get off for Islington but I mistakenly arrive right back outside The Bonneville. It’s like I’m in a bizzare dream and I run back inside the bar, half expecting to find it’s the 1920’s like something out of a Woody Allen film. But Alas! There is the same people, laughing at the craziness of it all. I feel like maybe I’ve lost my mind.

This bar is so mysterious and has this shadowy appeal that would be best enjoyed at night. I’m not sure if it was the absinthe but I feel that strange things could happen here. The running theme of the evening seemed to be the word crazy, and for that reason, The Bonneville is absinthe’s perfect habitat.

    Leave a comment