Above Board is a rare sort of cocktail bar. There’s no luminous back bar stacked with bottles and bottles of brand-name spirits. There are no intimate corner tables or booths – the only place to sit is at the big 12-seat island bar, or the coveted pair of two-seater banquettes behind it. And though owner Hayden Lambert has impeccable bartending credentials (Bar Americano, the Merchant Hotel), he won’t make you any drink you can think of, no more than a restaurant will make you any dish you can think of.
It’s a polarising place, but you can’t fault Lambert’s intentions. He’d rather serve 25 cocktails he knows how to make perfectly, than hundreds he’s less familiar with. Business partners Manu Potoi (Rockwell & Sons, Bar Liberty) and Cornelis Ribbe are down with it.
Due to limited space, common spirits such as chartreuse just aren’t stocked. If you’re the kind of person who “only” drinks Hendricks gin or “only” drinks Diplomático rum, this isn’t the place for you. Lambert decides which labels are best suited to the menu, decants them into elegant crystal bottles and conceals them in giant drawers behind the bar. Most of the time, you won’t know which brand you’re drinking.
It’s not a big deal. There are 25 or so cocktails on the menu, split into signatures and updated classics. The Big Four are here – Negroni, Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Martini – made to exacting standards. Then there are creations such as the sweet, smoky Cherry Rascal with Islay whisky, blackberry liqueur, cherry brandy and absinthe.
Sad bowls of skinless fruit and tatty bunches of mint have no place here. Lambert’s style is big and boozy, with minimal garnishes. Subtle, unexpected combinations are common. It turns out Midori, that lurid-green teenage classic, goes pretty well with two types of grown-ups-only vermouth.
Finding the place isn’t easy. When BeerMash is open, go inside and enter the unmarked door at the back of the shop. Above Board is a sharp U-turn and a flight of stairs away. Otherwise, entry is at the rear. Walk down Perry Street and up the graffiti-riddled Chopper Lane, which isn’t listed on Google Maps.