Red Light bar, Unity Street

An illicitly red-lit 'Apple Blossom' cocktail

An illicitly red-lit ‘Apple Blossom’ cocktail

Oh the moment when your computer crashes after you have just written a perfectly good appraisal of a fun contraband-style cocktail bar.

Before that happened, I woke up this morning feeling quite smug. I felt like I had made a unique new discovery and enjoyed a good old-fashioned grown up night out. No sore heads. No weariness. A cultured drinking experience.

Of course I’m not the only one to have made this discovery. The reason for the smugness was that my trusty Bristol playmate RP and I went to try out Hyde & Co, the Bristol prohibition bar favourites, new offering: Red Light.

In a graffiti-ed, red-lit doorway just off Park Street is a payphone. Pick up the payphone and a very nicely spoken maitre d’ will say he is coming to get you. Head down the cushioned red leather lined staircase and you’ll find yourself in the vaulted underground that Hyde & Co have converted into a super-sexy, super-slick cocktail bar.

You can’t help but feel transported – not to another era as the sleek modern decor is too much for that – but rather to a secret but classy gentlemens’ club. We took a seat at the bar (the best place to get recommended cocktails from the Fifties-inspired Byrlcreem-ed barmen and quick service from the red lipsticked hostesses).

The service is polite and respectful. No over-egged characterisation or chattiness and, as RP pointed out, a nice gender balance of staff. The hosts offer good plain advice on what to drink according to your cocktail tastes (though be warned RP had to go without a favourite Grasshopper due to a lack of creme de menthe).

I started with a Lip Smacker (a sour apricot number and rightly a house favourite) while RP tried an Apple Blossom, which has a cider brandy base. Next up was a highball that the barman described as ‘ginger ale with balls’. True though it was a little less exciting than my first order. RP went off-menu with the barman’s suggestion of his favourite: a Rum Flake – something with lots of rum and a whole egg.

The joy of Red Light is that it makes the high price of cocktail drinking worth it. The whole thing is about trying something new – a meal in liquid form. Like a Mai Tai, how about a…? And this is the simple pleasure of it. While the slightly jumped up aura of illicitness might feel gimmicky, the serious stuff – the drinking – is serious and our fellow drinkers were people interested in new flavours, not boozehounds.

Having said that, picking up the payphone was a great way to get back in touch with that slightly guilty feeling in the days of pre-18 fake IDs…

Red Light, 1 Unity Street, Bristol

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