In the dimly lit interior of The Bloomsbury Club bar, I am invited to hold out my hand for my palm to be read. With eyes that seem to glow, the sinister mystic hesitates. Lights flash, and a tarot card is chosen: it depicts a man with curly grey hair who holds a bird in his hand and rests his right foot on a giant green fish. I wonder what the fish means but all I’m told is that the card means I am on a “journey to wisdom”. This is uncannily accurate as I am on a journey to discover the secrets of the new cocktail menu introduced at the Bloomsbury Hotel’s bar, with 14 drinks inspired by tarot cards and the area’s Bloomsbury set of literary legends.
My tarot card not only tells me I’m seeking wisdom but it matches me up to one of the cocktails in the notebook-sized menu. Apparently, the cocktail I’m after is called Golden Dawn which promises to “help you pursue, clarity, wisdom and purpose”. These are things I need, and it helps that the ingredients match what I seek in terms of flavours: rich and mellow Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal cognac, Mondino Amaro, Yellow and Green Chartreuse, raspberry eau-de-vie and Angostura Bitters. It comes in a tall stemmed glass with a large crystal-clear ice cube and is a delicious combination of rich and herbaceous flavours. The inspiration is the wise monks who lived high up in the French Alps over 400 years ago using herbs and other plants to create their “eaux de vie”, or “waters of life”, to give “wisdom to the listless and immortality to the wise”.
I may not go home feeling immortal, but I’m certainly wiser after reading the explanation for the list’s concept in the menu. Tarot cards and other elements of mysticism, magic and the supernatural attracted the interest of the Bloomsbury Group of writers and artists who lived in the area near the hotel in the first half of the 20th century. The most famous of them was Virginia Woolf who writes in her diary of having her palm read at the home of another writer, Aldous Huxley, although she sensibly ponders, “Why should deaths and other events indent the palm of the hand?” AE Waite, a poet and scholar of mysticism, teamed up with an illustrator, Pamela Colman Smith, to produce a deck of striking tarot cards in 1910 which remain popular today. Waite was also a member of a secret society devoted to studying magic and the paranormal, called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which explains my cocktail’s name.
These tarot cards were the inspiration for the team at The Bloomsbury Club bar who worked together on the list – the first since head bartender Charlotte Charret left for The Stratford hotel in east London. Each cocktail comes with its own tarot card illustration, reflecting 14 different states of mind or being. The palm-reading Cocktail Diviner is in fact a contraption on wheels that resembles a mini vintage carnival booth – think of the magical Zoltar Speaks fortune-telling machine in the film Big (which has been turned into a stage musical that happens to be playing round the corner at the Dominion Theatre).
Like the Golden Dawn, the other cocktails on the menu showcase an enticing range of classic and intriguing ingredients. To “counter nervousness and fear”, the Painted Veil is a creative spin on a Cosmopolitan, mixing Dingle Vodka, Cointreau, fresh citrus liqueur, bitter orange blossom and cranberry stock with BarSol Pisco. A classic White Russian is given a Turkish Delight twist in the Persian Mist, promising “to lift your spirits”, made with Luksusowa Vodka, Tesseron Cognac Composition, East India cream sherry, Indonesian coffee, Persian Damask rose blossom and golden double cream.
Another cocktail on the list is the Black Narcissus (pictured top), for preventing “passion from turning to obsession”, combining Diplomático Planas six-year-old white rum, Belsazar Riesling vermouth, passion fruit extract, kumquat liqueur and the bar’s own grenadine. If you want “to summon prosperity with generosity”, you should sip the Moon Milk – a fizzy clarified milk punch mixed with Havana Club Selección de Maestros rum, artichoke bitter aperitif Cynar, Mancino Bianco Ambrato vermouth and Angostura Bitters. To “turn ideal desire into enduring love”, you need a gin-based cocktail, Forbidden Fruit, which seductively combines The Botanist Gin with a crab apple cordial, some nutty beurre noisette, Green Chartreuse, Bramley and Braeburn apple juice and apple oil. With many more intriguing recipes on the menu, I don’t need a fortune teller to predict that I’ll soon be returning to find out what other surprises the Cocktail Diviner has in store for me.
The Bloomsbury Club, Bloomsbury Hotel, 16-22 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NN Tel: 020 7347 1000 thebloomsburyclub.com/
Photography by Lateef Okunnu at Peppercorn Media.