If these walls could talk, they’d surely be pleading ‘forgive us Father, for we have sinned.’
Reverend JW Simpson is a bar that’s been on my radar for a while.
It’s the epitome of most bars nowadays – in a basement, down a dingy looking stairwell, and with drinks served in tins and tumblers.
It’s not a speakeasy, no, but it does have hidden walls and a prohibition vibe.
Located on Goodge Street, below street level and a handful of flats, the bar was home to the eponymous clergyman who lived at number 32 in the eighties, though whether he’s fact or fiction I’m not sure.
More recently though, the basement bar was a lot seedier, known for cocaine, champagne, slags and shags. Yep. It was a brothel, and when Bourne & Hollingsworth took over the site a few years ago after desertion by its previous owners/London Vice squads arresting and imprisoning its owners in 2009 as part of operation Vermilion, it was obvious the place needed cleaning out.
When every sign of debauchery had been removed, all that remained was the remnants of the man of the cloth who once called it home. Tiles where his kitchen sat adorn the walls, half ripped off half cleaned and polished. The outline of a crucifix hangs on the back bedroom, where the Reverend would have prayed on bended knees for consideration into Heaven, decades before those on bended knees would have easily been headed in the other direction.
Anaglypta lines the walls, and the woodchips’s been left in place. It’s grandma chic. If you nan had taken a sledgehammer to her living room.
It’s small, dimly lit, and perfect first date territory.
The bartenders, who don’t consider themselves mixologists, love their job. Jay, who runs the bar, holds brainstorming sessions every few weeks where all ideas for new drinks are considered. From figuring out how to set fire to ice, and creating the syrups and liqueurs used in their creations, the menu changes with the seasons.
If Heston Blumenthal is known for his scientific approach to food, then the team behind Rev JW Simpson are the cocktail counterparts.
The menu has just changed, and we started with a Tahiki Punch (the fortune teller told us to) and a Spring Cup. The drinks were served quickly and a bag of popcorn accompanied them.
And they were good. Strong, full of flavour, and expertly created.
While we drank, more patrons took seats and the bar staff took turns in talking them through the menu. It’s evident the team behind the drinks are in it for the love of their craft and take pride in everything they do. Even shaking a cocktail for twenty minutes solid for one guy who was propped at the reverend’s kitchen table.
Moving on, we tried a Piscita and an apple cocktail whose name I forget, but if you’re interested in trying it, just ask for the drink with the entire frozen apple in the glass. DON’T bite into it. Unless you need new veneers or something.
After a relaxed and enjoyable few hours we parted ways, not before being offered a shot of something from their kitchen for the road. Become a regular here and you’ll be treated like a king. Pop in on the off chance, and the team will still ensure you leave having had a great night.
Spirited sermons are held occasionally, where visitors pay £25 to learn about forgotten and rarely used techniques and ingredients. The congregation (LOL) is encouraged to have a go, and for those a bit more shy the bartenders will make up the drinks.
Cocktails start from £9, and no food is served. Take the address by all meals, but it’s easier to look for the little door with the reverend’s name on it.
Reverend JW Simpson, 32 Goodge Street, London W1T 2QJ