On Hackney Road, just down the street from Cambridge Heath station, is MacSmiths. A destination for Mac and Apple users, the store has become a haven for people at wits end trying to fix their devices. The store has become legendary for their quick turn-around on repair, and ability to solve almost any issue. Oh, and for the cocktail bar that crops up in the back when they stop trading for the day: The Natural Philosopher.
In the shop you’ll find a combination of antiques and gadgetry that fill the walls and space. All around you are Macs and Apple products from as far back as the 70’s, including one-offs you’re unlikely to see anywhere but a museum. Stepping through to the bar area reveals the same ‘fill the walls’ aesthetic continuing through.
The bar finds maximalist design taken to the, well, max. Low tables and plush stools are surrounded by overgrown plants that seem to grow out of the brick walls. Trinkets dot the shelves in between paintings that look like they’ve belong on the walls of a Victorian-era country manor. The feeling is warm, and the welcome is friendly and genuine. It feels like a fire should be roaring in a hearth at the side of the room, flames lapping at the rug-covered floor.
What are the drinks like, though?
Drinks at The Natural Philosopher are delicious. An effectively curated line-up of spirits and liqueurs allows for classic cocktails and house specials. Foraged and unusual ingredients combine to create cocktails themed around herbal remedies and medicine. The drinks, such as the Aloe, the Olive Leaf, or the Alligator Pepper, take their name from the principal herbal remedy inspiration. It’s important to note, however, that these ingredients may not make up the dominant flavour of the drink. The Coffee cocktail, for example, was largely rum and coconut forward, while toying with the coffee’s light fruitiness.
With room for up to 45 customers at a time, it’s the very definition of an intimate cocktail bar. Vibes are joyful and bustling, but never overwhelming. And the music is so good that they’ve chucked their playlist on Spotify for your next at-home cocktail night.
On your way out, be sure to pull the lever on the Poem-O-Graph machine. It claims to be an “automated sentence constructor, subconscious thought configurator, and non-demonstrative effusivator“. It seems to favour spiritual and AI-sentience influenced three-word phrases, or, indeed, poems. On my visit, the machine read “I worship God”. A machine purporting to be spiritual. It’s a fitting complement to a fantastic cocktail bar hidden away inside a repair shop.