An Evening in Covent Garden
Covent Garden is one of London’s chicest quarters and one of my personal favourite haunts in the city. Situated a few minutes away from the throng of nightclubs, 24-hour casinos, and super-sized cinemas of Leicester Square, Covent Garden is somewhat like an opulent village in the heart of the West End. While the majestic Royal Opera House and the charming boutiques of Covent Garden market plaza attract sightseers with scores of street artists and even the occasional opera singer competing for the loose change of passing tourists, my Covent Garden is the epicentre of my social life and played host to my most recent Friday evening in the capital.
Covent Garden has a population of countless chain bars, each of them offering their own distinctive feel, but when spending an evening in Covent Garden nothing can beat the thrill of stumbling upon an independent hidden gem, and Dirty Martini is one such jewel. More than just a standard urban watering hole, this New York-style bar offers a menu brimming with classic and contemporary cocktails and, as the name suggests, the most comprehensive selection of martinis I have ever had the pleasure to know. The basement bar is tucked down opposite the beautiful market plaza, Tuttonsrestaurant (sadly any connection with my name is pure coincidence). Despite its humble facade, inside Dirty Martini is an intimate den of sleek and seductive décor. When it comes to tackling the bar menu, Dirty Martini’s namesake drink of vermouth and gin or vodka is a potent mix best enjoyed by martini connoisseurs only. For those who aren’t ready to take on the dirty martini, I recommend the delectable Prosecco cocktails or the flavoursome fruit martinis, each one more delicious and refreshing than the last. I warn you now: The lychee martini slips down with a devilish ease, and, no, one is never enough.
What makes Dirty Martini so special is that it doesn’t just serve the best martinis in the capital, but it even teaches you how to make them. Joining a group of friends to celebrate a 22nd birthday with a private cocktail class—the entire bar reserved just for our group of twenty cocktail-hungry Londoners—we kicked off our class with two cocktails of our choice. Plumping for a smooth raspberry Bellini chased by a fiery chili and mango martini, we were ready to split into groups of three to head behind the bar and learn how to make our favourite cocktails from the menu.
Under the careful instruction of the sexy Australian head bartender, my group set about learning how to shake up my personal favourite tipple, a passion fruit martini. Standing behind Dirty Martini’s well-stocked, floor-to-ceiling bar with every bottle we could ever require at our fingertips we were walked through Dirty Martini’s unique recipe until we went from cocktail novice to pro-mixologist … well, almost. We did try adding extra shots to our cocktails (‘Australian measures…?’ we smiled innocently as aforementioned sexy bartender shot a raised eyebrow our way), and even after playing with the prescribed portions, our martinis came out with their usual five-star flavour. Our class over, Dirty Martini opened its doors to the public and, as regulars fresh out of the media and PR offices of Covent Garden poured in, the music was turned up and we sipped another few rounds of cocktails while enjoying complimentary platters of Mediterranean and vegetarian antipasti before heading to our next watering hole.
Leaving Dirty Martini we headed in the direction of Garrick Lane to The Porterhouse. Situated on Maiden Lane, one of Covent Garden’s chic side streets lined with boutiques and designer clothing stores, the three-storied Porterhouse is the largest bar in London. This is a polished, Irish-style bar with none of the gimmicks; if you like neon Guinness signs and shamrocks, I’m sorry to say you won’t find them here. Instead, the Porterhouse combines the sleek design and stylish tones of a bar with the friendly service and welcoming atmosphere of a pub. Live music every Wednesday through to Saturday draws large crowds, but three floors of cosy seating and a gorgeous heated patio outside means there’s always room to squeeze in around the bar.
With a branch in Dublin and New York, the Porterhouse is an unmissable port of call when in Covent Garden. Boasting one of the widest selections of beers in the capital, its extensive menu showcases beers from every continent with a tipple to tickle even the most discerning palette. So dedicated is this bar that they even brew their very own hand-crafted beer in Dublin before lovingly shipping it over to Covent Garden to treat the taste buds of London’s beer-sipping revelers. While my friends ordered beers from the other side of the world, including the Australian Tooheys (a rare find in the UK), I enjoyed my first bottle of Chimay Blue. The strongest beer on the menu, a 9% Belgian beer that has a rich brown colour to it and pours like a satisfyingly thick treacle, it was love at first sight. Heady, indulgent, and never below expectations, and that’s just the drinks; a Friday evening spent in Covent Garden is fun, luxurious, and always offering something a little out of the ordinary. Add the right company and it truly is an evening like no other.
11/12 Russell Street
Covent Garden, London
21-22 Maiden Lane