Once home to a real life Reverend - now an innovative cocktail bar
Reverend JW Simpson, Fitzrovia Review
Named after a former inhabitant who lived here until the late 80s, the Reverend JW Simpson is now a cosy basement cocktail bar and judging the lack of any queue, it’s still a bit of a secret.
I was invited down to check out a Spirited Sermon Masterclass and took Mark along. These sessions involve the Rev praising and preaching about some of the world’s oldest and most fascinating spirits. The bartenders create innovative takes on classic recipes for each session and guests are invited to try their hand at shaking them to life.
This week’s session was in honour of the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) with El Jimador Tequila. Dia de los Muertos is one of the great festivals in Mexico, where families and communities gather and dress up in parades to celebrate the lives of departed friends and family members, inviting the spirits back for a visit and helping their passage to the next life.
The entrance to Reverend JW Simpson is pretty subtle, all in black but as you walk past your eyes catch a beautiful stained glass window at the end of the hall (a nice nod the the Rev himself). At the end of the hall you’ll find a staircase leading you down in to a dimly lit, intimate space with a mix of ‘cool’ distressed decor and more formal cocktail lounge-y tables and sofas.
As well as the main room, there’s a hidden nook at the back where the pop-up bar is housed for these sessions. After making sure we were on the list we made our way to the back room to get our hands dirty behind the bar. Encouraging guests to make their own cocktails is a really fun aspect of these sessions and tuition from Polly was fantastic.
After inhaling our concoctions, we tried a couple of other delicious options from the special Dia de los Muertos menu before taking our seats at the large communal table to crack on with some more drinking… This time, sampling three types of El Jimador Tequila, all of which are 100% blue agave. This means it’s a nice pure product, unlike the cheap tequila many of us have been knocking back with lime and salt for years. El Jimador isn’t the best on the market but is the minimum you should be buying at home, unless you like massive hangovers.
First up was Blanco. A young, fresh and natural clear tequila, double-distilled to remove impurities and immediately bottled to preserve its crisp, authentic character. It was slightly citrusy and is best used for mixing.
Next was Reposado which is aged for two months in American oak barrels, giving it a nice golden colour and a smoother character.
Laslty came the the Añejo (aged), an award-winning double distilled tequila aged for 12 months in American oak barrels. This stuff was delicious despite only being aged for 12 months, was not a million miles away from a much older whiskey.
The normal menu is concise but full of delicious options, most of which contain homemade elements. The Weber Azul (£10) – Reposado Tequila mixed with sweet vermouth, Campari and a hint of Absinthe, shaken up with fresh lemon juice and egg white sounds spot on to me.
I highly recommend a visit to see the Reverend JW Simpson. The atmosphere is lively, friendly and intimate. The service is excellent and the bartenders are highly skilled. I expect Fridays and Saturdays are a bit busier than the Tuesday night we visited but you can book in to guarantee yourself a seat. It lacks some of the magic of Nightjar but is definitely a more than solid choice.
There are still a couple of Sermons to go in this series – Japanese Whisky, A Love Story – with Nikka Whisky’s Stefanie Holt on the 24th November and Repeal Day Special with Old Forester Bourbon on 1st December.
Tickets are £25 + booking fee including 3 cocktails – a straight up bargain for this kind of thing in this kind of location in this kind of city.