Wednesday, 28 July 2010

No. 3 London Dry Gin launch at Berry Bros

I bought a gramophone last week. I'm terribly proud of it. I found it at an antiques fair in Ardingly and it works perfectly. The day after buying it, desperate to get it home, I schlepped it up to London on the train.

That night I had to lug it across town to Berry Bros in St James's as I was keen to attend the launch of No. 3 London Dry Gin. Having been at Decanter three years, I've heard a lot about the Berry Bros HQ - tales of magnificent tastings in their impressive cellars and stories of bottles from the 19th century being dusted off and enjoyed. I was curious to see the cellars for myself.

Rocking up late and limp limbed, I checked in the gramophone. The ticket guy gave me a funny look, which I relished. I love eccentric gestures in deeply traditional haunts – swaggering in and checking in my machine as if it were perfectly normal to bring a gramophone to a cocktail party. I could have handed over a stuffed kitten or a kalashnikov for the look he gave me.

I was ushered down a narrow staircase, past Dead Poets style black and white photos of football teams and ancient Berry Bros alumni. The whole place breathes with the lungs of nostalgia. You can feel the history humming off the walls. A staircase later and I was down in the basement, standing under an arched, bomb-shelter like ceiling.

To my right an enthusiastic jazz band played frantically on their sax, double pass and trombone, giving the place a prohibition era feel. Everything from the underground setting to the abundance of decadent and delicious cocktails screamed of forbidden pleasures and clandestine reverie. With three bars to choose from and two cocktails being shaken at each bar, I didn't know where to begin. After a sensible No. 3 gin and tonic, I got a little more adventurous and opted for the No. 3 Mojito with Chambord (raspberry liqueur) and mint mixed by a guy from Hix. It was divine. I went back to his bar three times.

The jazz continued to be belted out, silenced only for a brief interlude when a Berry Bros rep spoke, apologizing for managing director Simon Berry's absence due to a detached retina, 'not caused by No. 3 London Dry Gin', he quickly added, raising polite laughter from the monocled, moustacheod crowd. Moving on to something slightly stronger, my fellow imbibers and I headed to Alessandro Palazzi of Dukes Hotel's bar. His Martinis are both the best in town, and the most lethal. Rumour has it he only gets six cocktails out of a bottle of gin - they're pretty much pure alcohol furnished with a few drops of angostura bitters.

Like a magician, Alessandro made a few flamboyant hand movements in the direction of the glasses, then poured the gin with military precision, ending his trick by dusting each glass with Amalfi lemon peel. He then proudly presented me the glasses, which I distributed among my group. Taking a sip I soon realised there was no chance I could actually finish the Martini. So as not to look impolite, I resorted to taking bird-like sips every now and then. I'd be on the floor if I drank the whole thing, and I had a gramophone to think about.

My journey home was interesting. The gramophone was so heavy and cumbersome I had to decline a goodie bag, which was deeply disappointing, but I couldn't physically carry it. Limping up the incredibly smart St James's street, passing besuited gents and perfumed ladies, I could no longer support the weight of the gramophone along with the sheer size of the horn and resorted to wearing the horn on my head like a witches hat.

I assure you, dear reader, that this was in no way in a bid to attract attention - which it certainly did, but rather a desperate space saving measure. I looked absurd walking up this most rarefied of streets with a hunk of shell shaped metal on my head, but it got the machine home in one piece. On arriving back at my flat I set up the gramophone, fixed on a fresh needle, wound it up and put on a foxtrot. It crackled as the 78 spun round on the turntable. Soon a mellifluous voice sang out from the horn and for two blissful minutes, time stood still.

1 comment:

  1. Lucy, you write beautifully! Such an interesting account and so well structured....

    wish i was there to help you with your gramophone, hope you both made it home in several parts...