Sleek & Accessible: The Black Rock
Tristan Stephenson and Tom Aske did it again: Whisky drinking has never been cooler with this new venture from the drinks experts from The Worship Street Whistling Shop. Now open in London.
This new London bar by Tristain Stephenson and Tom Aske, the duo behind drinking mecca The Worship Street Whistling Shop, takes what we know about whiskey drinking culture, and turns it around, making it casual, sexy, and surprisingly accessible.
Not much is given away from street level, only a small illuminated sign above what could otherwise be mistaken for cellar stairs leading beneath a city fish & chips shop. But those wise enough to take the risk, stand to step into a dark, noir drinking den that breaks boundaries, opens worlds and might even teach you a thing or two about one of the great spirits.
Whisky is a category that has seen much success in the last few years, with consumers and bartenders alike getting excited by the wide range of expressions, flavours, and styles available to market. This vast diversification gives drinkers a chance to develop their own unique tastes and preferences, however the barrier to entry for the spirit can sometimes appear to be set too high, clouded in pretension and elitism.
“The whisky bar concept was something we had toyed with for quite some time, as it’s a category that is evolving a lot quicker than the places which sell it are,” says Stephenson. “Top quality whisky has got to a point where it is consumed in peoples homes rather than in bars, because the bars don’t have the expertise, language and freedom to sell it. It struck me that there really aren’t many options even globally for accessible whisky drinking with stripped bare serving and pricing policy. So we did it.”
Roadmap to the Unknown
Over 250 bottles are available here, displayed in cabinets lining the small subterranean room and organized by flavour profile instead of the usual systems of origin or price point. By dividing up liquids into sections the Round, Fruit, Fragrance, Smoke, Spice, and Sweet, drinkers are given a roadmap to bottles yet untasted that could potentially become their new favorite, without feeling like they’re branching off completely into the unknown.
While whisky drinking can certainly become a very expensive hobby, Stephenson and Aske purposely kept it affordable. Black Rock may be sleek and minimalist, but it developed a very easy pricing structure helping to open the door to try new things with three main prices for drams: £7, £9, or £11. Marked by beads hung on the necks of the bottle, it’s an obvious way of keeping within a budget while still feeling like there are a plethora of options available. There are a few bottles that fall outside this range and are priced according to market value, but the team consciously wanted to keep prices at accessible levels.
Beyond just their stunning whisky selection, they also offer cocktails although no true bar is in sight. Armed with a trolly, their roaming bartenders circulate the room helping guests pick one (or several) from either their lighter Highballs or more complex Cocktails menus. These libations, priced between £8-£13, have been crafted to showcase the subtle and unique flavours of various whiskies in ways that should feel familiar and surprising all at once. Their twist on a negroni – the Nae-Grain-I with Haig Club, Campari, Cocchi and citrus – is interesting, comforting, and a great way to try a spirit that frequently gets priced out of cocktail menus.
Table Whisky at the Black Rock
The space itself is dark and intimate, yet feels like some kind of elevated house party. This communal vibe is enhanced by the show-stopping centerpiece of a central table. Carved out of half a massive 18-ft, 185-year-old tree trunk, this is more than just a table – its an interactive Whisky aging vessel, with two channels running the length of the wood holding up to 17 liters. One side is lined with American Oak, holding an aging cocktail, while the other is with French Oak, holding a house blend affectionately called their “table Whisky.” Visible through glass panels on the table surface, these drinks are available via taps at the end of the trunk for a very approachable price of £6.
“We’re happily surprised that so many people ‘get it,’” says Stephenson. “It was a worry that what we were doing was too weird or just unnecessary. But it seems that the concept is a welcome phase change for whisky.”
Foto: Photo via Black Rock