LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Londoners are getting serious about cocktails.
Drinkers in the British capital are seeking out small specialty cocktail bars with sophisticated interiors which serve short, strong and often slightly bitter concoctions such as the "Sidecar," "Manhattan" or "Apple Jack," to name three.
Bars dedicated to well-crafted drinks have become so popular in London that there has been a recent burst of openings.
"I think the specialty of making cocktails and the culture and the skill behind it is suddenly becoming more apparent and people are beginning to get it and understand it," said Camille Hobby-Limon of 69 Colebrooke Row, a tiny bar in north London.
Back in fashion are strong-tasting spirits -- bourbon, rye whiskey and gin -- made using traditional recipes or newly devised instructions that give a modern twist to the classics.
Places like 69 Colebrooke Row, and East London bars Callooh Callay and Lounge Bohemia aim to lure discerning drinkers. The bars are quiet, discourage overcrowding, and have small cryptic signs outside or none at all.
These places are aimed at people over 35 who used to drink hard and go to clubs but are now looking for a relaxing evening.
"The pubs and the bars have been marketing to the early to mid-20s and forgetting there is actually a whole market of people out there in their 30s and 40s, and 50s that actually have an income and like to go out," said Hobby-Limon.
Recently, Nightjar opened in the hip North London neighborhood of Hoxton followed by ECC Chinatown, opened in the middle of gritty Soho by a trio of young Frenchmen who made cocktails cool in Paris with the Experimental Cocktail Club.
They are just the latest in a growing number of bars that take as their inspiration the golden era of bartending, which was at its height in London in the 1920s.
Bartenders wear shirts and ties, and approach cocktail-making with the same precision and dedication a five-star chef takes in preparing a meal.
"A real cocktail glass is only about three or four ounces so you have one or two of these delicious cocktails made from great products," said Phil Duff owner of bar consultancy Liquid Solutions and Door 74 in Amsterdam. "It might have challenging flavors, but then again, you are a grown-up."
The cocktail scene is also getting a boost from some of the old drinking dens, including the grand dame of London cocktail bars, The American Bar in the refurbished Savoy Hotel.
U.S. TV series "Mad Men," in which the men are often seen whisky glass in hand, has also made cocktail drinking cool.
"'Mad men' for (old-fashioned) cocktails is like 'Sex and the City' was for the Cosmopolitan," said Duff.
High quality and personalized service is a big draw for some drinkers and makes the cost of the drinks -- generally between 10 and 15 pounds -- easier to swallow, said Mark Gill a cocktail aficionado and blogger who co-runs the London Cocktail Society.
"Ultimately cocktails are a pretty expensive way to drink. but the added value that you get with all these extras -- the service, the atmosphere and the experience of the bar -- makes it a better value proposition than just sitting down the pub and drinking beer all night," he said.
The bars rely on word of mouth for their business. ECC Chinatown has no sign outside, making it particularly hard to find on bustling Gerrard Street. Co-owner Xavier Padovani said this was all part of the experience.
"You have to deserve it a little," he said.
Autumn in Normandy
From Nicolas de Soto at ECC Chinatown
Into a shaker, pour in this order:
20 ml of fresh squeezed lemon juice
20 ml of cinnamon syrup (see recipe below)
50 ml of Dupont VSOP Calvados (apple brandy Basse
Normandy in France)
Add ice, shake and strain into a coupette glass
Garnish with a slice of apple soaked in ground cinnamon
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
Stir together white sugar, brown sugar, flour and
cinnamon in a small saucepan
Stir in vanilla extract and water
Bring to a rolling boil, stirring often
Continue to boil and stir until mixture thickens to syrup
Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes before serving
Writing by Karen Foster; editing by Paul Casciato