By Sasha Filimonov
I alight from a bus on a brisk winter’s eve when a cold whipping wind cuts into me. Walking towards a somewhat inconspicuous building in Islington, I ponder the quietness of the street and consider what is promised behind the doors ahead. Upon entry to the newly opened House of Wolf, a mood shift is palpable – the darkened space is transportive with its delicate fairy lights swathed across frosted branches decorating the walls and ceiling; the “Victorian Lair” concept is thoughtfully achieved.
Taxidermy cements the impression of another era, as do the numerous skull hangings – many uniquely fashioned by artist Lauren Baker. She also adorned a Wolf’s head with over 7,000 Swarovski crystals for the townhouse’s music hall.
As I was there to attend the Naughty or Nice event hosted by Patrón, it was only fitting to weave directly towards the bar where tequila-soaked cocktails were being shaken up vigorously. A ticket for the evening set me back £20, an amount I was happy to part with as it included endless libations, canapés and an evening slightly left of the norm. But someone else clearly hadn’t read the (not-so) fine lines of their ticket as a young woman was in the midst of berating the bartender when I arrived at the bar and she seemed frustrated at the lack of diversity in the boozy offerings.
“Can I have a vodka tonic?”
“No, sorry. We are only serving Patrón cocktails.…this event is sponsored by Patrón.”
“Ugh, so you don’t have rum?”
Girl storms off.
Her petulant behaviour served as a jovial starting point for the evening as the bartender and I spent a moment recounting the ridiculousness of her demands.
Having treated my partner to this night on the town, we were delighted to indulge in the cocktails. One of the more memorable concoctions was the Tequila Martinez made up with Patrón, Maraschino, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters. A lesser favourite was the tobasco-splashed drink, heavy-laden with absinthe – a shame really, as I am partial to any degree of spice in all forms.
House of Wolf is an elevated drinking institution with a degree of sophistication that is oft neglected nowadays in favour of pounding out half-assed spirituous beverages with the goal of faster turnaround.
The three-story venue has several drinking dens, including an Apothecary bar and the Attic where patrons were told to mingle around the room instead of shouting demands at the mixologists. We had to wait for servers to come around with trays of drinks – each round different from the last – and it was our duty to trust the bartender’s palate, a laudable practice that should be wider spread.
The more we imbibed, the further we ventured into the multi-leveled space – somehow getting corralled into a pseudo S&M-style photo shoot. But as it was all in the spirit of the Naughty or Nice theme, why not participate?
The Apothecary bar down the hall from the makeshift photo studio offers tufted seating options, where I rested my rump while waiting for an elixir combination to be carefully crafted by a lab-coat-donning bartender. With decadence on display throughout the venue, it is refreshing to find yourself feeling welcome and relaxed. It is a far cry from the many apothecary-style bars worldwide that have reached new heights of snobbery.
The Naughty or Nice event’s central focus was on cocktails, but House of Wolf also puts a heavy emphasis on its food. It is the first UK restaurant to have a permanent series of monthly pop-up chef residencies and for the month of December, food-designers Blanch & Shock are curating their kitchen.
The evening’s culinary winners were the pulled pork tacos topped with red cabbage and a zesty sour cream and I found them infinitely superior to the famed tacos of La Bodega Negra.
The crowd seemed an amalgamation of East and West London types without playing too much to either stereotype. They looked to be reasonable adults who were there to appreciate a bit of good food, drink, and general shenanigans.
Well, that was mostly the case…but one young lady decided it apropos to throw a full-on tantrum towards the end of the evening, accompanied by kicking and screaming whilst flailing about on the ground. The polite and accommodating staff handled the situation tactfully and she was removed in a gentle fashion.
I, on the other hand, sauntered out of the House of Wolf with a decidedly upbeat disposition and am eager for more debaucherous evenings at this Victorian-inspired pleasure palace.