|Top London bartenders Amanda Humphrey, Mickael Perron and Chris Lacey,
who helped put the experience together
I was invited to a preview last night of Courvoisier's "Institute of Grand Cocktails", a sort of interactive theatrical experience that is open to the public today and tomorrow. It is set in the Heritage Rooms within the enormous and labyrinthine Victoria House that squats between Bloomsbury Square and Southampton Row. If you like Art Deco architecture the place is mouthwatering, a series of period offices with wood panelling, marble fireplaces and, curiously, a safe built into the wall in each room. I'd be interested to know what these offices were originally built for.
One's experience involves moving through a sequence of rooms, in a group. Each room presents a sort of interactive tableau, and I gather the overall schtick is that this place is an ancient institute for cocktail making; apparently each scenario is meant to give you the sensation of "stepping inside a cocktail".
her blog) muscovado sugar and turmeric, while the rest of us get to watch. Then he gives us each a sugar cube and indicates that it is time to bugger off.
After this we find ourselves in the "New Orleans Apothecary", a bar dispensing Sazeracs. We get to tarry here a while and the preceding cocktails have kicked in so people are getting chatty. There is a jazz band playing (which one of the actors insists is a New Orleans jazz band no less, though in fact they had managed to hire a Django-style gypsy jazz combo—but I thought it churlish to point this out). The bar top has various bits of chemistry-set gear on it and the cocktails are served in small lab beakers with measurements up the side. I got ready for some "molecular" mixology, though in fact the only concession to this was to use an atomiser to spray the absinthe into the vessels.
|An artist's impression of the New Orleans Apothecary. Pretty accurate,
except I don't remember any dry ice
One final treat was in store: we were tapped on the shoulders in small groups and invited into the office of Master Masters, who told us we had been hand-picked to join the Secret Order of Cocktail-Makers. At this point I hoped we might therefore get to make some cocktails, but in fact there just followed an overwrought swearing-in ceremony, with breathy group hugs, and we left with an envelope containing a Courvoisier brochure. A couple of us expressed an interest in the handsome bottle of L'Essence de Courvoisier sitting on the desk, but we were promptly told to put it down because it was worth £1,800.
As I said at the beginning, I'm not really sure who this experience is aimed at. The branding is heavy, but if they are trying to sell it to the press or industry then it would help if they actually told us something about the product or, better, gave us cocktail masterclasses—something to capitalise on our physical presence in the room. But they are selling tickets to the public at £10 each—and for that I would expect something more satisfying from a personal perspective rather than a lot of mute brand presence and standing around looking at your shoes while an actor freestyles. I'm guessing that this was inspired by things like You Me Bum Bum Train—I've never had the pleasure myself, but I'm told that customers are moved, individually, from one chamber to the next, where you might find yourself in a dentist's chair or faced with a US football team expecting you to give them a pre-game pep talk. If the public get to experience the Institute one at a time, then I can see it might be different, more hands on, but as it is, compared to the Bum Bum Train, only the kinaesthesia experiment really lives up. Perhaps they just blew most of their budget on the sumptuous venue.
The Courvoisier Institute of Grand Cocktails runs until tomorrow (Saturday 14th July) evening, with last admission at 9.30pm. Tickets from courvoisierinstitute.eventbrite.co.uk.