Bar of the Week - Scouring the seas for tipple treasure at Merchant House

A specialty bar without a knowledgeable staff is like a ship without a sail. If you’re into your drink,  you’ll find knowledge and sails aplenty at London’s Merchant House, the vessel of liquor historians Nate Brown and Lewis Hayes.

When you descend the stairs into Merchant House's cellar bar, you are welcomed as a guest, not a customer. As your hosts, Nate and Lewis watch closely after you to make sure your cocktail isn't just a drink, but an unforgettable experience.

Upon moving to London after university, the two shipmates found gigs advising bars on their launch and their cocktail menus. In 2012, when they had become a sought after pair, they decided to setup a company, London Bar Consultants. Finding success on the consulting circuit, they decided to take it a step further - opening Merchant House in May 2014 - with no outside investment. 

With as deep a knowledge of the history of drink as an appreciation for it, Nate and Lewis can regal customers for hours with tales of mercantile ships on the high seas seeking exotic wares, fleeing from pirates and being escorted home by warring navies. As they thought of a name for their bar project they kept coming back to these stories, even creating a character in their heads of a Georgian captain collecting trinkets across the globe. And so decided to call the bar Merchant House. 

tipple treasure hunt pub

Gin is the base spirit of their cocktail concern. But as the duo looked even further into the history of gin, they discovered many parallels with rum - an integral aspect of colonialism, of maritime exploration and adventure - and decided to add the sugarcane spirit to the mix. Today, they boast more than 250 different premium species of each spirit including a “fair amount” of rare bottles that the world will never taste again once they’ve run dry. 

If you’re lucky enough to drink one of those last drops, you will not only leave with a taste of history on your tongue, but also with a sizable chunk of history in your head. You’ll know that Navy Strength gins and rum refer to the high, flammable alcohol content that if splattered on gun powder during a battle would not smother the powder’s spark due. You’ll be able to confidently tell your friends that gin and rum acted as a currency between merchant ships striking deals on their goods. And you’ll never get seasick thanks to your newfound knowledge that gin and rum fueled the Navy, staving off the boredom of months at sea and the associated illnesses. 

merchant house

So if you find yourself tramping through the stormy City, your respite lies with London's premier cocktail captains. In a bar scene rife with sunken ships, Merchant House indeed holds the richest treasures.