If there's an idea that really appeals to me, it's of the bar that feels like a private club, but is actually open to all. There's an undeniable romance about the little tucked-away place, known to a chosen few, that boasts exceptional cocktails and the kind of staff who have your cigarette lit before you knew you wanted one. On the other hand, although I'm no expert on members-only establishments, in my experience, the thrill of getting through the door is often the best part of the evening. The truth is that private joints tend to be a bit smug, and beneath the surface smuggery is usually more than a frisson of status anxiety. You can never relax, because everyone is checking out everyone else while desperately trying not to. Obviously, if I were an A-list celebrity I wouldn't go anywhere but Harry's Bar (who wants to be pestered for autographs all night?), but as I'm not, I would rather find a place that has all the advantages of a members-only establishment without the "elite" clientele.
Which brings me to Milk and Honey, a bar in the heart of London's West End (Poland Street, to be precise) that has managed to pull off the trick of being super-exclusive and, at the same time, open to all. In the first place, it is impossible to find (no door number; only an intimidating all-black frontage next to a pub). Second, it actually is members-only from 11pm on, and before the witching hour non-members are required to make reservations. Yet what makes this place way more enticing than the average private bar is not its semi-open-door policy but, rather, that it feels exactly like a club should do - secret, exotic, possibly illegal, definitely decadent. There's a big-sister Milk and Honey based in New York, and the bar's ambience is deliberately Twenties speakeasy: small, dimly lit, with pressed tin walls, leather booths and jazz playing at soft volume. You can't begin to see the cocktail menu, but who cares when you're in a joint that makes you feel like Tallulah Bankhead?
As it happens, while this place doesn't take itself too seriously on the clientele front, it really makes up for that in the cocktail department. Get this for dedication: the ice used in the bar's drinks is cut with an ice pick from twice-frozen blocks of mineral water, because ice made this way is denser, colder and chills your drink with minimal dilution. Cranberry juice isn't on offer because all mixers - including ginger beer - are made on the premises. And the cocktail list is a purist's dream: not a Tequila Sunrise or Pina Colada in sight. This is strictly White Lady, Pisco Sour and Dirty Martini territory.
I'd like to say that the cocktails I drank at Milk and Honey were the best I've ever tasted, but the fact is, I couldn't entirely trust my taste buds. If a bar makes you feel sexy and in the mood for throwing caution to the wind, the alcohol's job is half done.