“I walked into what became my new favourite bar”

The Dark Horse: an atmospheric cocktail bar in Bath

The Dark Horse features flourishes of architectural salvage, such as the bird of prey at the bar
The Dark Horse features flourishes of architectural salvage, such as the bird of prey at the bar | Image: Tom Southcott

I was tipped off about The Dark Horse by a restaurateur friend in east London, while we were chatting about our favourite cocktail bars around the UK. I was heading to Bath for the weekend, and I wondered what nightlife there was beyond the usual tourist haunts. The Dark Horse, he assured me, was what I was looking for. After a spa day and a superb supper at Dan Moon at The Gainsborough, I walked around the corner to Kingsmead Square, and down a set of basement steps into what would immediately become my new favourite bar.

Low, warm lighting is a key ingredient in the bar’s ambience
Low, warm lighting is a key ingredient in the bar’s ambience | Image: Tom Southcott

The team behind The Dark Horse manages to get everything right, from the pagan-style woodcut graphics of the bar’s branding to the arrangement of stools and booths that mean there isn’t a bad seat in the place. The lighting is low and warm, as is the music (something so many bars get horribly wrong). There are flourishes of architectural salvage – most notably a giant bird of prey sitting on the bar itself – and appealing art that is all, apparently, curated by the owner. At the furthest end of the space, there’s a private bar called Black Bird.

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I was immediately taken by the ambience, and a total lack of pretension and attitude, but it was the drinks that flagged up just how savvy the whole operation is. The friend I was with wanted “something like a gin and tonic, but more interesting”. She said her preferred flavour profile was citrus. The barman reached for a new gin just in from Japan and produced a concoction that she instantly loved.

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The pagan aspect of the bar features in some of the cocktail names: there is a Woden, a Horn of Plenty and a Rune (each £9.50). That last drink incorporates a primarily British mix of Sipsmith sloe gin, Somerset cherry, Cynar, lemon and Orchard Pig cider. After an impressive white Negroni, I wanted to see what they’d do with what is secretly my favourite cocktail of all time: the much-maligned piña colada. Their version was a revelation; sophisticated and boozy, it was made with Appleton Signature, Plantation XO and Trois Rivières rums, with home-made coconut and salted pineapple sorbet. And smart as it was, it still tasted like a whole lot of fun, which perfectly sums up The Dark Horse to me.

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