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Why are there no whisky bars in London?

Posted on 2007/08/07 22:50:34 (August 2007).

[Monday 6th August]
Actually today's entry relates partly to the previous evening, when I came across a rather excellent blog about Japanese whisky called Nonjatta. The blog not only details the whiskies, but also some bars in Tokyo where you can find them. It was a reminder that Tokyo was in no short supply of whisky bars - not just the indescribably excellent Quercus, but I also sampled a number of other whilst I was there - including the other one in Ikebukuro (Malt-Ya), and Refrain in Shinjuku - and there were certainly plenty more I never got round to trying.

...and herein lies the source of tonight's frustration. Why is it that on the other side of the world there are practically whisky bars on every street corner (and some of them very good as well) and yet in the capital city of the country which actualy makes the stuff* there are basically none.

OK, so there's the Whisky Society, and I am of course very fond of this place - they have utterly fantastic malts there, but first of all it's a members only place, and it tends to attract quite a lot of business types who basically just use it as a venue for informal meetings with clients. Sometimes the place bubbles over with whisky types and can be quite lively, often though it feels more like the business class lounge at an airport.

The only other whisky bar we've ever found in London was the bar at the Atheneum Hotel. This was, to me, purely aimed at people on expense accounts. I think the glass of whisky I had cost about twenty quid - OK it wasn't a run of the mill malt (it was a 30 year old Ardbeg), but still it was way overpriced.

Searching on the web this evening all I managed to find in addition were a couple of restaurants that offered a selection of single malts, and some rather irritatingly trendy looking place called Salt. This appeared to be a flashy cocktail bar which just happened to do a range of single malts - and the suggestion was that many of these ended up in the cocktails - shudder. Oh and they had live DJs. No thanks.

Are people in London really that disinterested in whisky, the drink the UK is best known for in the rest of the world? Or is this deemed a hobby for middle aged men, who are content to drink it at home with their pipe and slippers?

Is there really no market for a bar which is all about the whisky, and not just an overpriced and soulless venue for businessmen to test the limits of their expense accounts? A place where people who like whisky can go and talk about whisky. A place where people visiting the UK from abroad can try something which Britain can really be proud of.

I am loathed to say anything negative about London, in light of all the times I've defended the city when other people have been critical... but I feel the core of my argument (the sheer variety of things available) has been severely eroded by this realisation - there is basically nowhere to drink whisky in this city.

So as you might expect, tonight we didn't go and discover a wonderful new whisky bar, because there just aren't any. Instead Chie and I went for a bit of a wander in our local area, and eventually came across a pub called the Fox and Hounds. This was actually a great little pub, and did go some way to repair the damage done by my earlier falling out with London.

Still though, I remain a bit annoyed on this issue. If I had a few hundred thousand pounds lying around spare I'd set one up myself.

* - I struggled to word this - OK so yes whisky is made in Scotland and Scotland is a nation in itself and the capital is Edinburgh and maybe there are more whisky bars up there, but you know what I mean, OK?

Comment 1

Ahhh!! So good to read! No, not the shortage of whisky bars in the capitol, but just because, well... It's a "Chap" thing isn't it? Being able to talk about something so utterly sensible and important, if rather esoteric.

I'm no whisky expert at all, but I wholeheartedly support the need for a network of specialised establishments catering for just such.

Posted by Nigel at 2007/08/08 15:42:34.

Comment 2

Perhaps you find more whiskey bars abroad because it's special out there? Here, you can pick up a bottle of Bells for 9, so whiskey is hardly something 'different'?

Oh. That's bollocks. If that were the case, you'd never find a tea shop here would you?

Posted by tom at 2007/08/09 13:47:57.

Comment 3

Due to taxation, whisky is more expensive in the UK than any other country I've ever been to.

...and in Japan there were plenty of shops selling it, as well as the bars.

Posted by John at 2007/08/09 19:13:58.

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