Words Peter McSweeney
Photography Kirk Truman
“I like Fitzrovia as it is where creativity meets business…”
Fancy a tipple where you once got a tickle? Two burning candles sit either side of a black doorway along Goodge Street, transients barely question it all. Fitzrovia’s Cocktail cool kids have turned a Reverends Living Room (and former #sexytimeplace) into a drinking den where West-End cocktail lovers flock to satisfy their curiosity. In the untouched setting of a former brothel, I give to you the story of a local drinking hole with a difference, the eponymous Reverend JW Simpson.
Bourne & Hollingsworth, a Fitzrovia cocktail bar, has been running strong for seven years offering a creative environment that has somehow made pictures of my 1950’s Grandmothers lounge look like the perfect date spot. However, a few doors down at 32 Goodge Street is Reverend JW Simpson (or Rev’s) which is B&H sister bar offering a unique story and a bit of history with a twist to their expertly thought out cocktails.
Mark Holdstock, owner and the creative brains behind the B&H Group informs me this building had always been hot property, so when he managed to get his hands on the property he was thrilled but had no idea what he and his team would discover.
The site had always been known for operating a more ‘liberal’ environment of champagne and ‘extras’ thereafter becoming vacant for 2 years. When Mark acquired the site it was very clear where the main action took place. However, when starting to dig deeper Mark and his team found the original shape of the site was far from the Sodom & Gomorah reputation; it was in fact, previous to this, the living quarters of a Man of the Cloth, Reverend JW Simpson, where the bar gets its name from.
When walking through the mysterious black door and down the stairs you enter a hidden gem of Fitzrovia where you can clearly make out the lounge area, a kitchen (now part of the bar area) and a bedroom area where more it can only be assumed endless sexual acts may have taken place when formally a brothel. It makes does cause one to wonder just how something so committed to faith could then go on to evolve into something quite the opposite end of the salvation line, through to today where it is a bar.
What is clear about Rev’s is the confidence the team have in the space in keeping it in its original ‘Vicar esq’ format just adding some comfy seating, expert mixologists (cocktail maker) and subtle extras. They are certainly keeping to the Reverend’s choice of Feng Shui, to give it a relaxed feeling of speak easy meets Parochial housing. The main bar room is entirely untouched – the original wallpaper is still on the walls with cooking equipment in one corner of the room still hanging from the wall. In a back room a door opens to a brick wall next to the outline of a crucifix and a former headboard on the wall.
It has a creative buzz about it and to quote the owner ‘I like Fitzrovia as it is where creativity meets business.’ As a resident of the area I agree. It is not as far left and out there as East but has more of an edge than Mayfair whilst it is certainly not Soho.
‘Hide it, then tell them it is hidden’ was a statement I made to colleague recently when I walked past the venue. It has that air of ‘nobody told me about it but I’m sure I’ve heard something about it.’ What I found interesting was Mark’s experience of how the area has developed. When he started Bourne & Hollingsworth Saturday nights was a quiet one. Thursday and Friday’s people hung out after work but by 10pm everything was winding up whereas today the area now has a real night-time buzz and people make a special journey to make a night of it in Fitzrovia.
However, B&H grew organically and the B&H group’s passion for creative events (their main business ‘Prohibition/Dark Circus Party) and unique venues is certainly something displayed at Rev’s.
The manager of the venue tells me about their list of events soon to feature at Rev’s from bespoke cocktails evenings where you get to learn, and drink, three special cocktails to some novel ideas with food.
The bar at present keeps its relaxed Reverend’s living quarters feel to it by it’s exclusively seated tables service set-up, a nice touch whereas most bars in the area on a Friday nights you will spend 30 minutes waiting to get served at the bar. However, there are plans to extend the bar area to allow for a few more standing places which I think will give it a happy medium and allow more people to enjoy the venue.
Another nice touch is the gourmet popcorn (although I did not know popcorn could be gourmet) this stuff is top notch and is made in house along with a range of fruit based cocktails ingredients. All giving the drinks that extra bite. One of my favourite treats was the Douglas Fir Liquor (used in the Fir Douglas Rathbone Esq). It tastes like Christmas! Not that I’ve tasted Christmas, but if I had it would taste like Fir.
What would the Reverend make of the current use of space? As much as Sunday Service or the spiritual needs (resisting the obvious cheap pun) of the patrons not being administered in the traditional sense I am sure he would be more fond of the current occupiers than the previous. It is fulfilling and adds a relaxed dignity to throwing back a few rounds of Old Fashions or their recent addition, a Whisky/Guinness/Egg mix, a real strange delight.
What would the other previous owners of the establishment make of the new place? Hard to say. Anybody I have spoken to admits ever visited the old place. Everyone has ‘heard of it’ but no ever went down apparently so I don’t have much to go on.
With the respect shown to the more proper memory and history of the site it is clear their cheeky twist on a classic speakeasy cocktail bar gives it a divine edge. I could not resist one cheap gag, at least I won’t be asking for absinthe-lution. I know… Forgive me. I repent.