It may be Dry January but that’s no reason to stay home when one of London’s best cocktail bars has a “low and no” takeover. Ladies & Gentlemen, the basement bar in a former public loo by Camden Road station, has switched away from its normal cocktail menu to offer drinks with no more alcohol content than a negligible 0.5% ABV.
At the heart of the menu, which runs to the end of January, is Willow, a 0.5% ABV spirit that contains cannabidiol (CBD) along with pineapple, kaffir lime, cracked black pepper, agave, cherry tomatoes and strawberry water, with a calvados-like apple spirit as its base. It is distilled to 80% ABV and then diluted with water from the Lake District down to its low alcoholic level.
Willow was launched nearly a year ago by William Borrell, who not only owns London’s Ladies & Gentlemen bars in Camden and Kentish Town but developed the premium Vestal Vodka. Created in the “experimental kitchen” at the Kentish Town venue, the brand takes its name from William’s first name plus “low”.
Aside from the orange glow of bottles of Willow on the back bar, the cosy subterranean space is little different. However, the menu is all about “low and no”. On the night I went, the cocktails included We’re Jammin’, which mixes Willow with blackcurrant jam and agave syrup, topped with alcohol-free Eisberg sparkling rosé.
Eisberg sparkling white is used to top up another cocktail, the Champagne Float, with its base of Willow, agave syrup and lemon sorbet. The New York Sour might sound like the classic whiskey cocktail but it is re-invented by mixing Willow, agave syrup, citrus and egg white (or vegan foaming bitters).
For a simple short drink, the Willow & Chronic (pictured below) combines the 0.5% ABV spirit with Lamb & Watt Soda Water and the lemon and lime mixer alternative, Supasawa, served long over ice with a basil leaf garnish. This serve especially highlights Willow’s combination of savoury and fruit notes.
Drinks can also be given an extra burst of CBD by adding a dash of oil from Hempen, Mr Nice or Medterra – an option already on the menu at both Ladies & Gentlemen bars. Extracted from cannabis, CBD is a non-psychoactive supplement that has become popular as a natural remedy.
If you fancy the traditional serve of a Boilermaker, you can enjoy a shot of Willow with a low-alcohol beer in a bottle or can. The selection on offer when I visited included the new 0.5% ABV hopped Bone Cold Sober from Sadler’s Ales in the West Midlands and Big Drop Brewing’s 0.5% ABV Lager. There are also “low and no” wines including selections from Eisberg and Rawson’s Retreat.
But it is not just about avoiding the booze. Ladies & Gentlemen is offering an escape from the stress of London life and Brexit Britain. When I was there, a cluster of customers were engrossed in building what looked like a mansion out of Lego – an exercise in “Lego-based therapy” that is available every Thursday. This new form of “mindfulness”, promoted by Lego for stressed-out adults in its book “Build Yourself Happy: The Joy of Lego Play”, encourages people to follow instructions or be creative with their own ideas. All proceeds from the bar’s Lego therapy sessions will go to The Toy Project, a charity that recycles toys and distributes them globally for the less fortunate. Visit ladiesandgents.co for tickets.
Also on offer at the Camden bar are masterclasses on low and no-alcohol cocktail-making where guests can pick up tips on how to “pimp up” low-ABV cocktails without going overboard on sugar. There are also low-alcohol beer-tasting sessions where people can learn about brewing and the dealcoholisation techniques used to create high-quality alcohol-free beers while sampling Ladies and Gentlemen’s curated list of low- and no-alcohol lagers and pale ales.
Explaining the thinking behind the bold step of going totally “low and no”, William says: “We are seeing a really exciting spike in the no- and low-alcohol category, which has been growing since 2001. With an increasing number of products available, those who want to hold off on alcoholic beverages don’t need to miss out on the experience of enjoying a beer with friends or a non-alcoholic cocktail with all the cues of alcohol.”
The Camden bar’s low-alcohol takeover is reportedly proving a success at a time of year when drinkers traditionally avoid going out to remain teetotal. While Willow will remain on the menu, the cocktails will be back to boozy normal from February 1. But, if you can’t wait that long, the Kentish Town bar is only 15 minutes’ walk away.
Ladies & Gentlemen, 213 Royal College Street, Camden, London NW1 0TA
Tel: 020 7813 1308