Movers and shakers

Fancy mixing your own cocktails? Richard Johnson tries the hands-on approach at London's Retox bar
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I am a citizen of the Cocktail Nation. Which means that I vow to remain free from an existence of abject swinglessness, and I promise to be fabulous. It's not normally a difficult oath to keep. But in Retox in London's Covent Garden - a good-looking bar with an aircraft-hangar feel - I was struggling. You see, to citizens of the Cocktail Nation, the cult of the cocktail is a religious ceremony transformed into a secular rite. The bar is the temple, the drink is the sacramental cup, and the bartender is the high priest. But at Retox there is no bartender. You are left to mix your own cocktails. And there was me promising to be fabulous!

I am a citizen of the Cocktail Nation. Which means that I vow to remain free from an existence of abject swinglessness, and I promise to be fabulous. It's not normally a difficult oath to keep. But in Retox in London's Covent Garden - a good-looking bar with an aircraft-hangar feel - I was struggling. You see, to citizens of the Cocktail Nation, the cult of the cocktail is a religious ceremony transformed into a secular rite. The bar is the temple, the drink is the sacramental cup, and the bartender is the high priest. But at Retox there is no bartender. You are left to mix your own cocktails. And there was me promising to be fabulous!

The brightly coloured Retox menu offers a choice of six "bespoke individual drinking programmes". Each programme arrives on a tray with your own little bottles, little mixers and assorted little extras like jellybeans and sherbet. The menu was changed after the big drinks companies decided the jellybeans looked like tablets of ecstasy. And the line of sherbet, well ... Now I like little things. They make me feel like Gulliver. And I like the whole DIY concept. Retox is owned by the same people as Tiger Lil's, my favourite restaurant chain, where you essentially cook your own tea. But where is the glamour?

Retox is perfect for group bonding - or individual delirium - but I wasn't sure if I would recommend it to a fellow citizen of the Cocktail Nation until my eyes rested on the Goldschlager Programme. Now, I know that my nana used to recommend caraway seeds for digestion, anise for clarity of thought, mint for the blood, and apricot pits for the humours - but gold? The idea of putting gold in liqueur is down to Arnaud de Villeneuve, a chemist charged with mixing a tonic for the pope of the time. He decided to incorporate the magical powers of gold, the pope recovered, and the next thing you know, there's Goldschlager in the supermarkets around the Vatican City.

Gold, being almost completely inert, can't actually add flavour. But it can make a great marker for gut transit time. I was once a guinea pig in a drug trial. They gave me something inert with every meal. My stools were easy to analyse, and a dark green. British racing green, in fact. Gold would have been a lot classier. The Goldschlager Programme came with Cointreau and Moët to mix. My friend Ross (who works for Arena magazine, and is full-time fabulous) shared my bar snacks of deep-fried everything. We were loading carbohydrates after someone on the Absinth Programme had broken into the nearby Dr Martens store and proceeded to kiss mannequins. But Retox taught me something. Nobody can be fabulous 24 hours a day.

Retox, Corner Piazza, Russell Street, London WC2 (020-7240 5330)

drinkwithrichardjohnson@hotmail.com

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