This prohibition era speakeasy may be more Ritz than revolution, but that’s because this bar is about more than the booze. Like practically every UK city nowadays, Liverpool is copiously supplied with cocktail bars. Whether it’s the down-at-heel raucousness of places such as Salt Dog Slims or Santa Chupitos, or the Scarface-esque opulence of 81 Ltd – if you’re buying hard liquor in the city, there’s probably someone behind the bar channelling Tom Cruise in Cocktail and mixing something containing grenadine. However, not all cocktail bars are created equal. It’s tempting to roll your eyes on hearing about yet another not-so-secret speakeasy, but to pass on visiting Berry & Rye – situated in the building that once housed infamous (and rather filthy) nightclub, “The Sink” – is to miss out on one of Liverpool’s best bars.
Granted, you have to figure out where it is first; this is not a place that advertises its presence. From the outside, it looks like just another tatty deserted shop front, of which (sadly) there are so many in the city. There’s no sign and you have to figure out which door to walk through to enter (this reviewer spent a good 30 seconds pulling at the wrong one). However, once you pass through the velvet curtains, you’re greeted with a rather elegant sight – a tasteful wooden interior lit by gentle candlelight, a selection of delicious snacks provided by Baltic Bakehouse and cocktail menus pasted into the heart of large red dictionaries. If you’re lucky, there might be some Miles Davis on the stereo. This is a place for a discerning drinker to do some serious contemplation while lingering over a large, well made Old Fashioned, rather than frantically guzzling down gallons of sugary, multi-coloured rocket fuel in the midst of an ill-advised freshers’ week scrum.
I decided to test their skills by asking for a Negroni (£6.50), a classic drink that’s difficult to get wrong, but a work of art when done right. The one I was served was perfectly done: neither umbrella-laden nor served with steaming hunks of ice in a warm, soapy glass. Just the thing to take the edge off a long, hard Thursday. My partner’s Old Fashioned (£6.50) was equally well executed, exhibiting a nice lightness of touch with the Angostura bitters.
It’s not just about the booze though. While it may seem slightly out-of-character for a self-styled speakeasy to be aping ‘The Great British Bake Off’, Berry & Rye have recently started holding a monthly ‘Bake Off’ event organised by Scouse cupcake specialists, Laura’s Little Bakery. Here punters can judge a variety of fine patisserie while sipping on their Scotches. I don’t think any prohibition era speakeasy ever sold baked goods with its moonshine but it’s a nice touch and the event appears to growing in popularity with each month. It’s not often that you think of a cocktail bar as the kind of place you could take your parents but Berry & Rye isn’t your average cocktail bar. More “Ritz” than revolution, it’s a place we see ourselves returning to frequently. We’ll have a Negroni if you’re buying, thanks.