I admit to still being the tiniest bit petulant about the White Cube closing its Hoxton Square gallery space (yes I know it's been two years, what's your point??) and I experienced a renewed pang of loss on my most recent visit to the Square. A leisurely mooch round would have been the perfect cultural sharpener to a fabulous birthday outing with a girlfriend; dinner crafted by one of my very favourite chefs, Cameron Emirali, at his new restaurant 8 Hoxton Square (separate post coming soon!) and then cocktails literally next door at Happiness Forgets.
Happiness Forgets is what all the gimmicky, trendy, trying-too-hard pseudo-speakeasy bars in London want to be when they grow up. It's not really hidden, it just doesn't shout about itself too much. Leaving 8 Hoxton Square you simply turn left and immediately head down the steps to the tiny, intimate and welcoming basement bar. Wafting incense and the chalkboard-type sign painted on the wall opposite guide you into a cosy and dimly-lit subterranean hideaway.
Sofas and low tables provide spaces for long conversations or you can grab a stool at the bar if you're feeling sociable. There is a no-standing policy which means that once the seating is taken, that's it; on the down side, you do need to book in advance or arrive early to guarantee a spot, but on the very welcome up side you can sit at the bar without an ever-increasing crowd pressing into your back and drinks being perpetually passed in front of your face as you are trying to chat. This, together with the lived-in decor, scattered candlelight and muted music, give the bar a relaxed, embracing feel.
Staff are both knowledgeable and genuinely friendly, and were happy to advise on the ever-changing and quirkily-titled drinks menu. There is a small but carefully chosen selection of wines should you prefer, but the cocktails are what really makes Happiness Forgets stand out from the crowd. Owner Ali Burgess has serious barkeep pedigree, most notably under the illustrious Audrey Saunders at NYC's Pegu, and his expertise and guidance shine through. These are proper cocktails, balanced and crafted, and so very easy to drink. Oh, and the cocktail list arrives with a glass of cucumber-infused water (which is topped up throughout the evening) - unexpected but perfect for palate-cleansing rehydration.
The menu is short but varied, featuring several classics with a twist. Usually my heart sinks a little at this phrase; a classic is a classic for a reason, and it is notoriously difficult to do anything positive by fiddling about with something that clearly ain't broke. The exception to this rule, in pretty much any area of artistry, is when someone is knowledgeable and experienced enough in their field to understand exactly how and why the rules work, and so how they can successfully bend them. This is evident at Happiness Forgets.
Kydonia Daiquiri - fruity, lively blend including cider brandy, light rum and quince liqueur.
Dante - ridiculously moreish mix of tequila, chartreuse, Kümmel and lime, with a fresh herbal note of basil and celery bitters.
Perfect Storm - a fresh and zingy version of the classic Dark and Stormy, this is a perennial favourite and the closest they get to a house cocktail. Made with Skipper's dark rum but using fresh lemon and ginger juice, balanced with honey and a dash of plum brandy. Perfect indeed.
Baptiste - Remy VSOP cognac blended with lemon and maple syrup, topped up with Breton cider. Warm and wonderful.
Industry insiders voted Happiness Forgets an impressive sixth place in the Top 50 Bars in the world last year - not too shabby for a place that is understated, unpretentious and which was only opened in 2011. The drinks are fabulous it's true, but for me a big part of their success is that the whole experience is somehow genuine; by which I mean that nothing feels fake, or forced, or guided by the whims of fashion. Happiness Forgets feels like it has been there forever, and by the end of your first drink you feel like a welcome regular.
And where did they get the intriguing name? Rumour has it that it's from a Dionne Warwick lyric:
'Loneliness remembers what happiness forgets
And when you fall in love too fast
The sunshine doesn't last forever after . . .'
So - go to this wonderful tiny bar, drink, relax and be happy. Oh, and don't forget to look at the back of the menu for random, cocktail-related quotations. My favourite? 'Sometimes I drink a glass of water, just to surprise my liver.'
Girl About Town xx