Littered with pickled brains and collectible little curios, Hendrick’s Carnival of Knowledge feels as much an absinthe-addled emporium of wonders as it does a gin-slinging sales pitch. Its idiosyncracy and consciously ‘kooky’ character prove central to experience of any of the many sessions of pseudo-intellectual patter scheduled over the course of the Carnival’s contracted existence. The allocated ‘hour’ of cocktails and conversational capers offers an ideal opportunity to soak up this aura of gorgeousness whilst also suitably sauced.
One of the Carnival’s significant strengths is its magnificently proficient hosting: a doorman is on hand to welcome any guest through the big-top-style drapery door. With a copy of ‘The Unusual Times’ – an exquisitely detailed informational upon such subjects as our modern day persecution of magicians and the standards of housekeeping in Hell – placed in hand, guests are whisked into boozy heart of the carnival: A parlour packed to the rafters with chaises longs, ottomans and other obscure artefacts of Victoriana. Here emcees aplenty – including the distinguished Professor Medwyn, Director of the Carnival – saunter from guest to guest, riding crops and gong mallets marshalling strangers into civil conversation. Exceptionally attentive, these hosts ensure no one ever feels left on the fringes of this somewhat silly make-believe. Occasionally, the whimsy of these Wonderland denizens falters due to what feels like an uncertainty about their mandate; whipping up the Carnival’s oh-so-boho atmosphere whilst simultaneously ensuring that guests feel at ease leads to an awkward juxtaposition of fictional shtick and genuine, open conversation. Eyes dart off sideways, voices falter.
Surprise, surprise, the jewel in the gin-maker’s crown is its corking cocktail menu. Propping up the bar, guests get boozed-up by the carnival’s suave mixologists, with tipples ranging from honest Edinburgh mules to the edgily elderflower-and-chilli-flavoured St-Germain-de-Pres. With a cocktail glass clutched in hand (many of them dainty china teacups with glass stems attached), the jaunty tunes and ginny chitter-chatter ease one into an impression of Golden Age glamour and caddishness. This feeling of frivolity makes for the most palatable product placement one will ever encounter.
If you can stomach the palpably bourgeois sensibility, cocktail hours at Hendrick’s Carnival of Knowledge are certainly worth a drop-in. Fix up your three-pieces and fire up your cognitive cogs to overdrive, this is a cocktail hour to be celebrates in cerebrally silly style.