*This post is not beer related but it involves some beer and some alcohol so I think that qualifies it for this blog*
An American living in Belgium many miles away from Gent told me of a place that was just like Bourbon & Branch. A speakeasy in Europe? How odd. I emailed the venue requesting a reservation for one. I referenced my favorite speakeasy bars in the US, Bourbon & Branch and Gibson. One day later, a man named Olivier returned my email saying they don’t normally accept email reservations and it’s phone only but he asked what time I’d be arriving and stated there was no need to call in. I added an additional person to my reservation just in case a colleague was crazy enough to join me. Our party showed up at the discreet front door with 5 people from work. They accommodated all of us without any hesitation.
The cocktail bar popularity has been increasing over the last decade. There are enough people who want to go beyond 2 liquors and a soda thrown into a glass and hastily shaken for a $10 bill. There’s a demand for high quality ingredients, unforgettable recipes in a setting that feels simple compared to the world outside of the doors. This is why Speakeasy bars appeal to me. No loud voices, no cell phones, no standing at the bar and have patience as there are bartenders crafting great drinks for many people at once.
Olivier greeted our group at the door following my ringing of the doorbell – a button that actually triggers a bright light downstairs signaling the crew that customers are waiting outside to get in. The man taking my reservation and answering the door is also the head mixoligist and owner. I wasn’t aware of this but the place only opened 3 months ago. It was 8PM and we weren’t even the first ones to arrive. “Nice crowd for being so early.” I said and then I found out, it’s packed full of people every night.
The owner has been building cocktails for years to perfect the craft and, last September, he and his girlfriend decided to open the bar and give it a go. It appears the risk was worth it. Not a single seat was empty from 8PM until I finally left at 2AM. My work companions have all had mixed drinks but never with the care and ingredients that Jigger’s was putting together. A tequila based mustard drink with Struise Stout beer? A Tom Collins with a blonde Belgian ale? How about a cocktail with a gin base, egg whites and a combination of syrups and juices fresh made from raw fruits daily garnished with spice? They had it all. Classic cocktails were available but the weekly 5 cocktails were delicious and well crafted. 9 Euro gets you any one of the 5 special cocktails of the week and they were a wide range with something for everyone. For 10 Euro and up, you could request a specific drink or simply ask Olivier and the other bartender to make something fantastic and they would always deliver.
In 6 hours, I found no reason to ever send a drink back. Each was exceptional. Just for good measure, I asked Olivier to make his best Dry Martini as my final test. It was the best Martini I’ve ever had. The few things I know about cocktails would be discussed with the two bartenders keeping nearly 30 concurrent guests with drinks in hand all night. “Why don’t you chill the glass with soda and ice instead of water and ice?” “It’s easier and just as effective.” I was told.If the ingredient was not liquor, it was most likely purchased and created by hand before the bar opened. Little bottles of syrups and juices were all filled in store with manual squeezing of fruits and ice was crushed by hand and executed flawlessly. I’ve never had hand-made smoke infused tequila infused right in front of me but I have now and the process and drink were both amazing. Light a torch, fill bottle with smoke, put tequila in bottle, seal, shake, wait and serve.
The thing about cocktails is that people forget to pace themselves. I was there for 6 hours, didn’t leave feeling drunk and woke up early the next morning to board a train to London. I had 7 cocktails in 6 hours. Each was great but I feel fine now. Most people around me didn’t follow that method.
Jigger’s is great because the 3-person team was always smiling and never too busy to answer a question. The jar full of dried juniper berries (my favorite) was always full. It’s cash only and they have no Twitter account or fancy amenities. This is a basement bar with gorgeous lighting and a talented group ready to make cocktails in the style of the previous century. I hope you’ll take the time to check out the photos below and perhaps pay a visit next time you find yourself within an hours drive of this place. It’s worth every one of the 71 Euro that i spent in an evening. Also, thanks Olivier for creating a nice list of London cocktail lounges to visit. I appreciate the time you took to answer all of my questions.