Outside Nine Lives, the newest project from Sweet&Chilli, the bar’s only real tell-tale sign of existence is a tallied number nine logo. Adorned across a vintage leather jacket, on the bar’s website, the logo looks as though plucked from a Dead Kennedys or Black Flag album cover. It’s so punk, in fact, it’s surprising that BrewDog haven’t yet bullied the group into submission.
On a backstreet close to London Bridge station, Nine Lives has a sense of Prohibition mystery, tucked underground like most of the city’s best bars. Sadly, Nine Lives has absolutely no resident cats. Designed by owner and Sweet&Chilli Creative Director Emma Hutchinson, the 100 capacity bar is low-lit with plenty of hanging plants, woven lampshades, marbled fascias and copper bar surfaces. Inside, the space has an almost Colonial style, not unlike that of Oriole under Smithfield Market. We sit at the bar and watch the bartenders creating a number of innovative cocktails, engaging in conversation about everything from Mexico, to Veganism, to the use of Red Bull in wine-based cocktails.
With so much social consciousness and focus on food waste in 2017, Nine Lives’ entire operation adheres to a zero waste ethos. Drinks are split into Shorts, Talls, Tarts, Lowriders and Loops. Shorts and Talls are quite self-explanatory, while Loops focus on reused key ingredients. Nine Lives use the juice, skin and oils of lemons in cocktails, for instance, then redistill the pith to release further essential oils, used to make both liqueurs and hand soap. Any small leftovers are then neutralised and composted to aid the herbs growing in the bar’s back garden. Everything at Nine Lives, even down to the bamboo straws, is reusable.
From the Talls section, ‘Ômu Kooler’ is a refreshing blend of bitter Campari and sweet, juicy watermelon, with the pertinent ingredients well balanced to avoid each overpowering one another. The drink is then finished with a homemade cucumber soda water, which brings more of a thirst quenching, refreshing quality: perfect for a warm summer evening. From the Tarts, ‘Camber’ is essentially an up-to-the-minute dry martini. Here, gin is teamed with typical white vermouth, with the addition of kombucha – a fermented tea that brings profound earthiness to the drink, adding further complexity to this twist on a bona fide classic.
‘Tonatiuh’ – a short drink, combines mezcal with aromatic bitters, passion fruit and white vermouth. Complex with the smokiness of mezcal, complemented by the sweet, juiciness of passionfruit that’s further restrained by the dry vermouth – the drink is ultimately well-mixed and tremendously balanced. Another short, ‘Moby Dick’, features grain whisky washed with coconut oil and salted caramel. One more concoction of fine balance, the sweetness of caramel is present, but doesn’t make the drink tooth-achingly sweet. Instead, the caramel notes seem to impede the grain whisky’s ferocity, generally harsher in flavour than single malt, while the coconut oil adds texture over flavour.
With a cosy, fairly intimate atmosphere and carefully devised soundtrack, Nine Lives is one of the city’s most exciting new bars. Go for the unpretentious ethos of commendable social consciousness, stay for the boundary-pushing cocktails.
Nine Lives can be found at 8 Holyrood Street, London, SE1 2EL.