Sophisticated Shabiness at Reverend JW Simpson

By Tristan Parker

It’s always difficult to pre-guess the atmosphere in any of London’s multitude of speakeasy-style cocktail joints, particularly with the fashionable stuffiness that pervades some of them. So it’s a pleasant surprise to find an immediately friendly and welcoming atmosphere at Reverend JW Simpson.

The quirky yet unpretentious décor that hits as you descend the stairs into the basement – peeling wallpaper, exposed wooden ceiling panels – also becomes even more appealing when you discover it hasn’t been put there for effect; the building is genuinely the former home of the aforementioned Reverend, and the owners of the bar (the team behind the nearby Bourne & Hollingsworth) simply decided to keep the ramshackle shabiness during the renovation.

It’s a cozy, intimate space, dimly lit but not too dark, and easy to relax in. As befits such a vibe, the drinks are refreshingly uncomplicated, but still with a touch of flair. “Our drinks are based on classic flavours but given a tweak and made with some unusual ingredients”, says Dino Koletsas, Bar Manager at Rev JW. “For example, we’ve bought in mead on the menu, which I find a really interesting ingredient. It’s not commonly used and has a lot of history across Europe, and it’s actually got quite a lot of different styles as well.”

But for anyone who thinks mead should have been left to Beowulf, fear not. As Dino says, the majority of the menu takes classic styles as its main inspiration.

Sampling a Penicillin – an old favourite, consisting of peated whisky, honey, ginger and lemon – proves that Rev JW’s classic chops are up to scratch, and a Laird’s Old Fashioned – Laird’s Apple Brandy with liquorice bitters, apple syrup and citrus zest – is similarly flavoursome and enjoyable.

The Port in a Storm (dark rum and port with bitters, lime juice and ginger beer) is also bubbling over with delicious, rich flavours, while those seeking a bigger citrus hit are advised to try an East 8 Spritz – Aperol shaken with pineapple juice, passion fruit syrup and lime juice.

For something a little leftfield but still with plenty of big, recognisable flavours, try the Blackberry Smash (Monkey Shoulder whisky and blackbereies mixed with lemon wedges, mint and crème de mure) or Gardener’s Tea Break (Hendrick’s Gin, cucumber puree, green tea syrup and lemon), two of the more unusual drinks on the menu.

There are plenty of bars to go to if you want molecular mixology or drinks served in jam jars. Reverend JW Simpson is not one of those places and is rightly proud of its status as a classy but friendly cocktail bar, radiating a warm atmosphere and proving that with a little imagination, wholesome drinks and traditional flavors still pack a mighty punch.