Those not ‘in the know’ might walk straight past Dalston’s new bar, Untitled. Though the storefront looks anonymous and forgettable with its scrappy grey exterior and heavy door, the drinks are anything but.
Untitled serves a changing selection of twelve original cocktails, each designed in the Drink Factory, the mysterious liquid lab near Broadway Market belonging to founder Tony Conigliaro. The mixologist, who is often described as the Heston Blumenthal of drinks, is known for the strange tastes that result from his experiments. Flint vodka, anyone?
“The idea of Untitled was to create a list of drinks that was more about their experience,” said Zoe Burgess, head of research and Conigliaro’s right-hand woman. “So, green tastes of green. If you want to taste Sicily, you order Sicily.”
Each intriguingly yet simply named drink on the menu – tomato, silk, rice – has only its non-alcoholic ingredients listed underneath, all dedicated to evoking the drink’s namesake. A far-cry from hunting for cocktails with the most shots in.
“One of my favourites is snow,” said Burgess. “The idea is to capture that moment of when you’re young and you go out in the snow for the first time and you stick your tongue out and catch those snowflakes.”
Flavours ‘clay, chalk, enoki’ are all that is given away about snow. Somehow, the drink is remarkably light and cold, sweetly nostalgic and childlike, and true to its name – despite two out of three of its ingredients sounding like they belong on a construction site and the other an edible East Asian mushroom.
“Everything in this drink is considered thoroughly,” said Zoe. “Each drink is kept to a perfect temperature that depends on the drink.”
Clearly this careful thought applies to the bar itself, too. The interior is austere but beautiful – and the feeling you’re inside a modern art gallery is not a mistake. Untitled is inspired by Andy Warhol’s silver Factory, the artist’s New York studio where the walls are wrapped in tin foil. At Untitled, the walls are subtly clad with the same.
— Untitled_bar (@Untitled_bar) March 7, 2017
“Everything about the bar is very considered, so we’ve chosen very particular glassware – and with the welcome wish too,” said Zoe, referring to the edible petal flavoured with beetroot, plum and rose that customers are given. “We wanted to create something that’s quite stunning on a welcome.”
Dark, grey-scale paintings line the walls, some beautifully positioned; the larger ones lean against the floor. Stashed almost out of sight in the corner is the bar, where the witchcraft of these strange, tantalising tastes is performed. The centrepiece is a single 5m-long concrete table that seats 20, designed for conversation and sharing an experience – quite different from the private nooks and crannies of most bars.
“We wanted a space that was very much for the community and the people,” said Burgess. “That’s what the communal table is for. We’ve enjoyed the randomisations that have happened between people sharing interests.”
But why Dalston? “A lot of the people who work here have lived here and have friends round here. There are also a lot of creative people. It has a very vibrant artistic community. It is quite a unique place. People chat to each other and people ask each other about the drinks.”
— Jess EatingEast (@JessEatingeast) February 22, 2017
The waiters are equally enthralled. One recommends his favourite drink, Violin, the woody flavours of which he says reminds him of home. If not home, Violin will certainly remind you of whisky. But its smoky coolness apparently owes nothing to the spirit and all to oak, pine, beeswax, benzoin and black pepper. Another drink, Sicily – citrus, verbena and orange blossom – evokes the warmth and intensity of the Italian island.
Coffee shop and gallery by day, cocktail bar by night, Untitled is certainly doing its best to welcome Hackney’s large creative community. And everyone else too, it seems. For up to £8.50 a cocktail, this level of knowledge, care and enthusiasm from staff – each in matching shirts that look like they’ve been doodled on – is a treat as special as the drinks.
Faye White contributed to this story.