Sometimes, you need to change your perspective on something before you really know it. There’s so much thrown around and spoken about cities, arts, events, social movements, clubs, politics, work, etc, that occasionally, we need to rise above it all to stay grounded and remind ourselves where we are. What’s the best way to do it? Get high and drink.
In particular, I’m talking about the bar at Aqua, on the 32nd floor of the Shard. As soon as you’re through the doors on the ground floor, security guards screen your bags and point you towards the dedicated lift for the bar and restaurants surrounding it. First impressions are one of a padded, buttonback leather cell. It has just two buttons – ‘0’ and ’32’. Once the doors close, there is so little noise and vibration that the only things that tell you you’re climbing (and fast) are your ears popping. Once you leave the lift, colours of the sky fill the gaps between the bottles, bar staff and guests. In a room where the walls are glass, there’s no point in windows. The central bar, like a stained-glass window in spirits when the light shines through the bottles, is a 360° temple to liquid finery. It all feels very strange – on a weekday night, the bar was almost serene despite being busy. People spread themselves around the windows and enjoy the view, yet there are no tourists taking photos of each other resting a foot on the London Eye or BT Tower.
The drinks list will happily do for first-timers and seasoned cocktail pros alike. Classic drinks are available and open to modification by substituting subtly different spirits, and the staff are well used to explaining the differences between spirits and their effect on the drink. Impressively, there are also a range of more unusual house drinks available, including one range based on different blends and infusions of tea into cocktails. Everything here is quality and competence: instead of flaming drinks and shots, you get mixes containing marshmallows and pegs holding fruits or herbs to the glass so they don’t get stuck in your teeth. They are not cheap, but 30 minutes on the viewing platform in the same building will cost you twice as much and frankly, once you’re higher than anywhere else, going further still doesn’t make a difference.
There are cheaper ways to go drinking, and if you aren’t into cocktails then you might initially feel lost here. Yes, there is a dress code but not wearing jeans or trainers out is no hardship: there are people there in fitted t-shirts, officewear and skirts with flats. Honestly, for half the price of a ticket to the Shard’s viewing gallery or three Jack and Cokes in a club, Aqua is well worth it. The drinks are better, it’s fun all the time and every day, it’s a genuinely unique location in London and it’s an experience you’ll remember better than any club night. All this and you could still, maybe, take someone home when you leave.