New York is one of the few cities to rival London when it comes to great cocktail bars. There’s even a chance our friends in the Big Apple possess a slight advantage but loyalty prevents us from acknowledging this. Besides, we also do pubs so definitely win overall.
But there’s no denying that New York does a good cocktail bar. Creatively decorated spaces with plenty of foliage and more than the odd curio; proper sound systems where the music heightens the vibe but doesn’t deafen you; and of course fantastic cocktails paired with delicious good.
Happily, you needn’t book a transatlantic flight to experience a place with all the attributes listed above. Nine Lives in London Bridge would not feel out of place in Williamsburg or even downtown LA. In vibe, certainly – we can make no promises on the weather.
What to drink?
The cocktail menu is divided into three sections, long, straight up and straight down, with a handful of options for each. There are also a couple of punch jugs for two or four people if you’re planning to make a night of it.
Of the straight downs: the Moby Dick (coconut fat-washed Johnnie Walker Black Label, salted caramel) slips down smoother than David Niven wearing a cravat while playing Miles Davis on a grand piano. Regular Joe (Bulleit Rye whiskey, poached banana wine, fresh rosemary and thyme) proves to be anything but – how many cocktails include poached banana wine? Not enough, you’ll decide after trying it.
Of the longs: the Crossfire Hurricane (rum blend, passionfruit, pineapple, orange and lemon) goes down like a fruit punch – one of those delightful, dangerous drinks that offers only the merest hint of the alcohol within. You could knock back six in a heartbeat. Bonus points for the cool name. The Toki Highball (Suntory Toki whisky, peach and thyme cordial, soda) is a more serious affair yet will still bring a smile to your face – like all good cocktails should.
What to eat?
Tacos! The superlative Tigre Tacos has a food truck out front and yes, plates will be delivered to your table. We ordered Camarones (King prawns, avocado, pineapple salsa) and Baja (beer-battered catch of the day, pickled cabbage, chipotle mayo). Both were wonderful, fresh and tangy and packed with fishy goodness, all you can ask for from a taco.
Pulpo Tostadas (Octopus ceviche, crispy tortilla, chilli oil) offers a more than serviceable alternative if tacos don’t tickle your fancy. My friend and colleague claimed not to eat octopus because “they’re too intelligent”. The octopus arrived. He ate the octopus. The Mariscos Fritos (freshly fried white fish, octopus, calamari) makes for a great sharing dish, beautifully battered brilliance.
Will it bankrupt me?
Nine Lives is very solid value. Cocktails cluster around the £10 mark, with the Crossfire Hurricane being the outlier at £13.50 (that's the rum blend!). There are some very good discounts over London Cocktail Week if you come down before the end of October.
The food is even cheaper, the octopus the only dish to cost you double figures. Everything else is around £7-8 and invariably comes in pairs. By our rough approximation, you can run through the entire menu for £60 or so. Not bad at all.
Anything else to note?
Don't fancy the basement? Then bag one of the outside benches alongside the taco truck in the alley.
A great spot in summer; less so perhaps in winter but wrap up warm and let the booze do the rest.
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8 Holyrood St, SE1 2EL; Nine Lives