The name Waeska is a less phonetically challenging version of ayahuasca, the psychoactive Amazonian vine said to result in spiritual enlightenment.
Visitors to the bar at The Mandrake Hotel (itself named after a hallucinogenic plant) in Fitzrovia face a sort of out-of-body experience themselves as they make their way along the all-black, soundproofed entrance tunnel and open the doors to a carnival-like scene. The music is loud, the people are beautiful, the decor is tropically trippy.
Leaping above the bar is a taxidermied impala with kangaroo legs and a peacock’s tail, covered in beetle wings: an Enrique Gomez de Molina artwork which sets the surrealist tone.
Interiors are a mash-up of patterns, colours and textures: tropical-print brocade armchairs, grey leather bar stools, mirror-topped tables and a collection of tribal trinkets collected by the owner, Beirut-born Rami Fustok. It’s maximalist glamour meets exotic psychedelia meets urban sophistication. And somehow it works.
Fantastical though the interiors are, try to nab a spot at one of the bamboo tables in the jasmine-strewn courtyard. Glass walls ensure you can still see and be seen; it’s the perfect vantage point to watch the comings and goings (of which there are many) of the arty, fashionable and photogenic young things that make up the bulk of the clientele.
‘Fashionable’ doesn’t mean pretentious; for such a buzzy spot staff (clad in millennial pink, of course) do a superb job of making everyone feel welcome. We were urged to try the bar’s bestseller, The Hedonist: a version of a Pornstar Martini with coconut-washed rum, a hint of coffee and passion fruit sherbet. Smooth, fruity and complex, we could have sipped it all night.
Featuring 10 signature cocktails, the menu is gratifyingly concise — a good thing, since they all feature weird and wonderful ingredients that sound straight from the pages of a Harry Potter book: galangal, sea buckthorn, wettleseed tincture, yuzushu… You don’t get that at The Connaught, or The Ritz for that matter: both previously run by Waeska’s bar manager Walter Pintus.
In fact, they taste less experimental than their ingredients suggest, and are minimally garnished with a refreshing lack of gimmicks.
The Louisville Lip is a subtle, easy-drinking twist on a whisky sour with foam instead of egg white, while the Hive uses bee pollen konbucha, salted orange blossom and sherry to temper the smoky force of Laphroaig whisky. The menu also features a kind of negroni made with truffle-washed vodka, which we were assured customers either love or hate, but on the whole the theatrics are left to the interiors.
At times The Mandrake can feel self-consciously avant-garde; unisex bathrooms hammer home the hedonism theme, while graffitied white walls en route to them are clearly designed to continue the ‘mind-bending’ journey.
After our visit I was informed that there is soon to be a new cocktail menu based on “ethnobotany”, which “investigates the relationship between past and present populations and their local plants”.
But it’s a lot of fun: a sexy, eccentric assault on the senses which will see you eventually stumbling out into the grubbier end of Oxford Street wondering if it was all a fantasy.