Luke Blackall: Cognac has always felt like part of a club I'm not allowed into

Man About Town
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The Independent Online

The plan was to drink cognac and go gambling. Fitting activities for a Thursday night out, I felt. Not that I particularly felt like either of them – they're just two things I think I should like.

Even though I enjoy spirits, I've never seen eye to eye with cognac. It's always felt too powerful, too grown-up for me, like it's part of a superior club I'm not allowed into.

So when I received an email about something called "the Courvoisier Institute of Grand Cocktails", I thought I had to go. Maybe there I could learn to love the stuff.

As it turned out, I didn't pay close enough attention to the invitation. It was actually part-drinks party, part-experiential theatre. We were led through various rooms, each with a different theme and a different cocktail, while actors playing the parts of fruit-and-veg sellers, mad scientists and aristocratic party hosts mingled with the guests.

All very entertaining, but the problem was the cognac. It was either mixed with fruit juice, combined with champagne or blended with other ingredients. While they were all cosy enough to help you forget the rain, I'm still no closer to liking the stuff the way it was meant to be consumed – on its own.

The next stop of the night was the launch of the Hippodrome Casino in London's Leicester Square. Although I like the idea of taking a chance, calculating the odds and winning lots of money, I've never experienced the gambler's rush.

Part of it is knowing that the casino always wins, part of it is not wanting to lose lots of money..

The Hippodrome is as close to the grand-scale haunts of Las Vegas as you're likely to get here. In times gone by, I was told, the venue used to house a circus, with elephants, polar bears and one-legged bicyclists all providing entertainment. For reasons that are probably right, they don't feature at the new venue.

The tables themselves looked nice, perhaps helped by the likes of the model Daisy Lowe playing there too. The venue's owner told me that he expects half of the customers won't gamble, instead they'll have dinner, have a drink or watch a live show in the theatre around the back, so I wasn't alone.

Still, I had failed my evening's ambitions. I think I'll have to find another challenge to my outdated view of masculinity. Anyone for some absinthe and Greco-Roman wrestling?