Oh look, January's over. It's still darker than a nostril out there. Let's drink booze.
Such was my terribly complicated thought process as I walked down the wooden steps to Ruby's—the date-favourite Dalston cocktail bar named after the Ruby House 3 Chinese takeaway that formerly stood above it.
Opened four years ago by man-with-a-van-turned-bar-entrepreneur Tom Gibson, Ruby's is well-known and well-loved in East London for its cocktails, scuffed walls, kitsch decor, and friendly welcome. So much so that Gibson has just taken over the old Nigerian nightclub next door to open Ruby's Lounge—a larger, laid-back space that looks like the set of a 1970s porn film.
"I wanted to adhere to the same principles—basically a nice atmosphere and focus on quality—but bring it into a different, bigger dimension," says Gibson, standing behind the bar in a pair of battered old Reeboks. "Ruby's Lounge is more about wine, beer, food, and music although, of course, there will still be cocktails."
Ah, there will always be cocktails. Gibson was first ushered into the cocktail repertoire by Andy Kerr, the man behind nearby venues All Star Lanes, Living Ventures and, most recently, Discount Suit Company.
"He showed me how to make our first five cocktails, which included the blackberry mojito that we're going to make today," says Gibson, fiddling with an old milk bottle. "I practiced and practiced until I'd made each of them at least 200 times."
Well, if practice makes perfect then, in my case, apprenticeship makes enthusiastic. So, I say, standing beside a tattooed woman called Rhiannon, who's cracking eggs into a giant plastic tub, let's make some booze.
The blackberry mojito is probably Ruby's best-loved drink, particularly in summer. "A nice drink that doesn't take itself too seriously" is how Gibson describes it, standing beside a ceramic dog and below an old crystal paperweight on shelves groaning with bottles. Well, he should know.
First, we muddle the blackberries in the bottom of the glass, before adding Chambord (the raspberry liqueur that looks like it's wearing a Moschino belt) and white rum, followed by sugar syrup. At this point, Tom accidentally knocks half of the drink in the sink, meaning I get to drink the remainder as he starts again from scratch.
Once we're back to where we were, Gibson adds the syrup and juice of a whole lime, then rubs the mint leaves between his palms to release some of that sweet green juice. On top of this, he shovels in a load of crushed ice and then begins to mash the whole thing together with a long spoon.
This drink, built and served in an old milk bottle sourced by Gibson's antique dealer dad, gets passed to me and, to my shame, doesn't make it any further. I drink the whole fecking thing.
Next up is the chili apple martini, which Gibson calls a "gender neutral drink"—whatever the hell that means. It's also made in a shaker, so you can build up your forearms before drop-kicking your tongue.
Gibson infuses his vodka with a long red chili and two Madagascan vanilla pods for a couple of days, giving the booze a bit of flavour and surprising heat. Once the vodka is ready, he mixes it with Manzana Verde apple liqueur, fresh apple juice, and the juice of a whole squeezed lemon. He adds dash of vanilla syrup and shakes it like Apollo Creed at the punchbag.
The drink is served in one of those martini glasses that always make me think of Miss Piggy, garnished with a little bird's eye chili. Proceed to the toilet, afterwards, with some caution.
Gibson also makes me his Sazerac, which he describes as a "sort of Old Fashioned" that originates from New Orleans. Has he been to New Orleans, I ask?
"I've been twice, mate," pipes up Rhiannon, who's still cracking eggs over in the corner.
Things start by "washing" the chilled glass with a dash of absinthe. This is swiftly followed by me drinking a shot of absinthe at 4 PM on a Tuesday which, I think we can all agree, is a great idea. Once the absinthe has been poured out, Gibson adds Sazerac rye, Martell VS cognac, sugar syrup, and Peychaud's bitters (for the pink tinge), and two dashes of Angostura bitter. We stir whole thing for 30 seconds before garnishing the drink with a twist of lemon, rubbed—as it were—around the rim.
As it's so simple, Gibson says this is the drink he uses to judge other bars. If they can make a decent Sazerac then they're probably up to scratch, he explains, cradling the glass in his hand, leaning against the bar.
By this point I am, it's fair to say, mildly pissed. Thanks to England's morbid climate, it's already dark outside, I'm three cocktails and a shot of absinthe in, and even the builders next door have gone quiet. This, I decide, is the only way to get through February—to tough out the short days, freezing weather, and the real kicker half way through: Valentine's Day.
"This is the Tinder hotspot," says Gibson, sipping his Sazerac as I finish the last of the chili apple martini. "Tinder Tuesdays are what gets me through the beginning of the week. I've watched a couple of really bad first dates—people have had sex in the toilets, which is weird. But then people have also got married who met here, and had babies."
You see? It's amazing what a little booze can do. One in your eye February, I'll be at the bar.
All photos by Jake Lewis.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in February 2016.