Inside Soho’s secret speakeasy bar: modern classic cocktails

Soho's favourite diner Top Dog has just launched its "secret" speakeasy bar – Upstairs at Top Dog. Katie Woodward finds out more from the bartender behind the new drinking den, Luke Ridge.


top-dog

Since opening in June 2015, Top Dog has been serving up modern hot dogs, craft burgers, sides and milkshakes to Londoners. Split over three floors, the American-style diner includes a main restaurant, a lower-ground floor event space called 'The Den' and, its latest addition, an upstairs bar serving modern classic cocktails from the city's best bartenders.

This new bar, The Catalyst, is a creative space for talented bartenders and brands to showcase their talents and products.

Katie Woodward: Where does the inspiration for the menu come from? Are there plans to change it?

Luke Ridge: It's all funky stuff, but it's also a nice mix. It's not all short cocktails or tall cocktails. It has to be the right balance.

At the moment I'm going to change it in the next couple of weeks. I wanted to do it every month on the dot, but then it felt a bit too regimented and slightly corporate. So when it's ready and when I've got people that give me the right sort of drinks for what we're after [then I'll change it].

KW: Are there any current trends in the London cocktail industry?

LR: Someone will set the bar, do something really out there, show that it works, and everyone will follow. Just for a spell. Until the next thing.

A couple of bars did some savoury drinks, and then there was a spell where people were putting bugs in drinks. And off the back of that Dandelyan came round and did modern botany, which was genius.

Now the thing is [to be] more sustainable, more eco. Greener. Because bars have so much wastage.

Instead of just using a lime, squeezing the juice and throwing it away, you use the lime, use the peel, use this, use that - and try to get as many uses out if it as possible.

KW: How easy is it to come up with something new?

LR: A completely new concept? It's so hard.

There are so many bartenders out there, so many bars, that drink's probably been thought of. But maybe you can do a slight twist on it, maybe you can improve it, or maybe you just haven't heard about it in London but they've been making it in New York.

You'll always make drinks better with people, because being able to bounce ideas off someone is a lot easier. When you get to tasting it, that's when you need to keep it to yourself.

KW: What does the future hold in store for Top Dog and the Catalyst bar?

LR: I'd love to be able to [offer cocktail making sessions]. I've got so many friends that aren't [in the cocktail] industry that could tell me more about the industry than I could ever know.

A talk on classic gin cocktails, using Tanqueray gin, would sell out rapidly. That's why I want to try and get a nice mix of [industry and non-industry].

We're going to move and do the pop up in north, south, east, west [London]. Take the menu everywhere.

Once that's done, next year...I want to do this in the VIP area of a festival. I don't want to serve 2,000 people, I want to serve a couple of hundred. I want people to appreciate the cocktails and the effort that's going into them.

KW: Would you ever open a permanent bar in London?

LR: If it was the right spot, with the right people, at the right time, then yes. I'd want to have enough time, to put 100% effort into it, and get it done perfectly.

It's nice to have the bar but I want the community side of it. I want to be the bartenders' mate, everyone knows you. You can't do that in the middle of the sticks. If I could do it right, then absolutely. It could go well. I've got high hopes for it.