A Portrait of a Bar: Little Mercies in Crouch End, London

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Photography by Harry Bowley

AnOther Door Opens: In a series created in partnership with Jameson, AnOther explores bars around the world as spaces for community and creative collaboration

AnOther has teamed up with iconic Irish whiskey brand Jameson for AnOther Door Opens, a celebration of local bars, which have long played a crucial role in creativity and connection. Bar-hopping from London to Jakarta to Sydney, we speak to the driving forces behind three small-but-perfectly-formed bars connected by shared values of togetherness, community and creative collaboration. We spell out a portrait of each bar, discovering what community and openness means today in the age of social distancing.

Bars have long held a social function that transcends the simple connection that comes from talking over a drink. They have a secondary, less spoken about purpose, as a support system for the local communities around them. But in a post-Covid-19 world where social distancing is the new normal, what does community mean exactly? And how do we stay open to opportunities for genuine connection when we’re being actively encouraged to keep a safe distance?

Little Mercies can be found at the tail end of the busy Broadway Parade in north London’s Crouch End. In a former life, the bar existed as a Chinese restaurant, but today, that past is another world. Spotlit exposed bricks, moody painted walls and an industrial concrete bar stretching the length of the room might not sound particularly welcoming on paper, but in the two years since opening, Little Mercies has fostered a reputation as a much-loved neighbourhood gem. And that’s thanks to the bar’s owners: the venue was brought to life by Alan Sherwood, Max and Noel Venning, who cut their teeth creating small, intimate spaces for local creatives to gather, converse and collaborate.

A neighbourhood bar at its core, Little Mercies exists for the local community, where their regular patrons are more important than awards or industry recognition. “At the end of the day, we make drinks for the people who come in several times a week,” Sherwood says.

The same considered care that goes into Jameson whiskey cocktails the bartenders stir and shake, extends to the local community who live and work around the bar. Like all good bars and pubs, when the door of Little Mercies is open, it’s open to everyone. “It’s like a village that happens to be in London more than anything else,” Sherwood says of his neighbourhood.

The idea of mutual aid took hold around the world when local and national lockdowns began in March last year. And as Sherwood and his team found during the peak of the pandemic, when we leave the door open for connection, we let the light in. “The support we have had from our local community has, since the beginning, been incredible,” says Sherwood, who stayed in communication with fellow venue owners, business owners and managers in the area throughout lockdown. “We supported each other throughout lockdown with information, updates and consistent help.”

Since lockdown, there have been innovations underway at Little Mercies. The bar reopened with a new cocktail menu nearly twice the size of the one it closed with. For visitors, we reckon that the Grapefruit Spritz is the best drink to order at the Little Mercies bar. The venue now boasts a bottled cocktail range, and Sherwood is now in talks with some exciting people to stock the range. “During lockdown we decided to use our time to make our own cider, which we now have on tap, so there have been some really fun moments as well,” he laughs.

As we cautiously yet optimistically ease restrictions and move back into the world once again, Sherwood has a few words of wisdom. “The worst thing we could do right now is ignore the safeguards put in place and end up in another lockdown. Go out, enjoy it, cancel in advance if you have to, but remember to keep each other safe.”

Cocktail bars are usually known for pretension, the opposite of openness. With the right service, food, ambiance and a steady supply of Jameson whiskey, a cocktail bar can easily be good. But few bars are great. Because a great bar should feel open to everyone. A place of connection. Where everyone feels welcome. As Sherwood sees it, “The sort of place you feel comfortable in, every time, regardless of when.”