Their name a nod to the historical English drink originally made with wormwood-infused ale, Purl, one of London’s most esteemed cocktail bars, has recently welcomed a new edition to the family.
Running for three and a half years in its underground Marylebone home and then opening The Whistling Shop in Shoreditch, Purl has enjoyed amazing attention from London’s hard-to-impress cocktail-lovers, with drinkers returning week after week for what has become their signature flare for flavour combinations and their inexhaustible penchant for performance.
With three and a half years in service comes a tidal wave of cocktails and all of the smoke, fog and liquid nitrogen that comes with it, so when it came time for Purl to launch their new pop-up in Balham, they looked no further than their previous concoctions.
‘We are bringing our forgotten Purls to this up-and-coming area…they are either going to love it or they will hate it, but it is good to mix it up,’ explains a relaxed and upbeat Bryan Pietersen, one of the founders of Purl.
He explains that while Balham is not cocktail territory this was part of the draw for him, ‘in Marylebone, you are spoilt – you are expected to make the best cocktails, and people are really connoisseurs – I wouldn’t know what to expect from around here.’
While Purl in Marylebone might be a proper drinker’s favourite spot, their pop-up in Balham will invite an easier type of drinking to begin with. So if you are partial to a Mojito their menu will please, but if your pulse quickens at the thought of a Vesper then maybe wait until their menu matures.
So what can our friends in the south-west look forward to? A couple of Purl classics for starters, including Mr Hyde, a drink that has been on the Purl Marylebone menu since its stylish beginnings and boasts Ron Zacapa rum, root-beer reduction and chocolate and lavender bitters finished in a smoked and bottled form and sprayed with honey mist.
Champagne Caviar is a must-drink too, with a glass of Veuve Clicquot topped with vodka-cranberry flavoured caviar-shaped pearls that burst when bitten to create a dual-drink sensation.
Situated in The Bedford pub, Purl seems an unlikely partner for this live-music centric ale house, but any doubt slips away once inside – the room and the pub itself was once a hotel built in the 1830s, and the antiquated chandeliers and Gatsby-esque mirrored glass fittings fits Purl down to the ground.
But it’s not all about Balham – during a recent visit to Purl in Marylebone we see how they continue to keep their guests on their toes, with cocktails in test tubes in a bed of applewood smoke, fresh lime and liquorice bitter drinks served with (cream-based) mango butterflies and, my personal favourite, a bourbon, sloe gin, lemon and ginger drink served with a fruitified balloon – when popped in front of a guest it gives a surprising aroma of citrus. Not for the faint of heart, that’s for certain.
And it is not all for show, Purl’s theatrical elements often aid the taste experience and give the drinker further choice; in its smoke-based drinks, guests choose how smoky their drink will be by how long it is submerged, and on some martini options guests are given pipettes filled with peppermint, ginger and cardamom bitters in order to personalise the taste of their cocktail.
Ingredients-wise they are exceptional as well, if you ever see a carton of orange juice behind the bar then you have gone to the wrong place. Purl is all about deconstructing what is classic, common and expected and turning that into something new and profound. Their G&T Turbo is such a cocktail, made with gin, lime, egg white and their homemade tonic syrup, once tasted it’s difficult to get excited about your standard two-ingredient G&T.
Though there are an infinite number of cocktail bars in London, and a growing number that claim to cater to ‘the gentleman’ and to the slightly overdone speakeasy era, none commit as much as Purl. From the mint mayonnaise and cucumber sandwich amuse bouche to the handlebar-mustached barkeep and copious amounts of dry ice, Purls are to be treasured.