Out of the thirteen house cocktails on the menu at Zetter Townhouse, there’s not one I wouldn’t want to douse my taste buds in. Hooray to 69 Colebrooke Row, the masters of mixology they collaborated with on the selection, for leaving off deathly boring classics, such as Sex on the Beach and Cosmopolitan; the Flintlock, containing gunpowder tea tincture (no, I’ve no idea either) and Nettle Gimlet are far more up my cobbled street. After trying just under half of them, I’d urge you to start with the Rhubarb Kir Royal, follow with the Les Fleurs Du Mal, and finish with the warm, sleep-inducing Harvard.
The unique cocktail selection is only part of the pull for rocking up here. Zetter Townhouse, the brainchild of Mark Sainsbury and Michael Benyan, the duo behind the Zetter Hotel across the way, is a breath of fresh air for Clerkenwell, and London in general. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes but I, for one, fell in love with the place, which the owners accurately describe as The Zetter’s eccentric aunt from 200 or so years before.
With a vast taxidermy collection encompassing a stuffed kangaroo and Victorian dressed pussycat; an eclectic mix of oil paintings, sketches, sepia photographs, rustic rugs, stone pillars; and a dotting of glass-topped tables, through which collections of oddities reside – from tobacco and screw tins to maps and magnifying glasses – when I first step foot into the Townhouse, I feel like I’ve stumbled into Professor Henry Jones’s study (circa Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). I almost expect to be directed through the folding doors of the private dining room for a starter of monkey brains (yes, I know that’s actually Temple of Doom; play along won’t you?); quite the contrast to Zetter Townhouse’s unassuming Georgian façade.
What could have ended up as a confusing pile of crap – think Steptoe & Son – is actually, as the bartender summed it up perfectly, “tasteful eccentricity”. I want it to become the place where I regularly meet with friends, to drink cocktails and talk nonsense and listen to the fantastic soundtrack – a quirky mix of carnival, music hall, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday – but I also sort of want to keep it to myself. I could happily while away a couple of solitary evenings reading all the old newspaper cuttings and early print ads pasted wall to ceiling in the stairwell and downstairs ladies’ loo. I’d hate to pop back a few months down the line, when news of it has travelled around the vineyard, and not be able to get a seat. Though there’s always the bar to prop up against or the downstairs games room to hang out in for a spot of ping pong.
Far from serving up monkey brains, the Bruno Loubet designed menu reflects the style of the Townhouse perfectly, with a mix of Supper Bowls and Nibbles. We opted for a charcuterie selection board for two and a side of homemade parmesan biscuits. The generous platter, topped with Serrano ham, Pate de Campagne, duck and pork rillettes, and salchichon, was spot on in terms of size and quality. Top marks too to the deep Vignes de L’eglise house red, which wiped the floor with other house wines I’ve sampled, and came in rather reasonable at £12 a carafe.
I have a habit of hoarding photos, cuttings and jotted down design ideas for my future home, and there was plenty for me to gather down here; upstairs too as I discovered when we were presented with our room for the night.
A carved wooden four poster bed raised high off the ground, straight out of The Princess and the Pea. Draped with a Union Jack canopy and bunting, and adorned with pillows plumper than Henry VIII, it was made for days spent living a sloth-like existence. In various corners, extra flags lay deflated, as if waiting for the day when they will be picked up and waved patriotically out of the window. A little wooden door on the wall opened to reveal a peep hole through to the bathroom – something every one of the rooms has. For the severely perverted, one of the Townhouse Suites offer two peepholes through to the bathroom: one at head height and one just above the toilet, so you can keep the object of your affections anonymous, if you so wish. Each of the 13 individually designed rooms boasts beautiful antique furniture, brilliantly designed bathrooms, ranging from roomy showers with massive heads, to standalone baths; with the very top of the scale boasting Roberts radios, Nespresso machines and separate lounge areas. Not forgetting complimentary treats in the form of Ren toiletries, loose tea and coffee, and water from the Zetter spring.
The Zetter Townhouse is not simply a place to rest one’s head on a break in the capital, it’s an experience. In fact, if it were a choice between the queue-magnet that is Madame Tussauds – does it ever end? – and an afternoon sharing cocktails and conversation with a stuffed kangaroo, I know which one I’d choose.
Photography by Juliet Murphy.