The Bletchley: Cryptic Cocktail Experience | Chelsea Funhouse | Review

The Bletchley: Cryptic Cocktail Experience

Chelsea Funhouse

Enter an immersive world of code-breaking and cocktails.
Use WW2 Enigma machines and protocols paired with Sherlock’s deduction principles to help our mixologists create personalised cocktails for you.
The recipes will stay a secret between you and our agents. Forever.
For the ones who don’t want the experience and just drinks, we have a full menu in house for you to enjoy vintage vibes and drinks.

Code breaking meets the cocktail bar at this immersive bar in Chelsea London. A Lollipop project

Friday 27th January, I was invited along to ‘The Bletchley: Cryptic Cocktail Experience’ at Chelsea Funhouse, West London. I was immensely excited to attend. The online reviews were outstanding, and the customer service from the Reservations team was highly commendable; they accommodated very last minute arrangements in a wholly warm and welcoming capacity.

Beyond that (spoiler) – I was sadly disappointed.

I do believe the overarching concept to be great. Experiences all over London are applying the winning formula of an interactive activity, unique cocktails and a themed environment to feed the large appetite of tourists and London locals on the hunt for a memorable night out. There isn’t another WW2 secret service themed experience currently available in London (to my knowledge), so there was certainly industry space for the Bletchley to excel with considerable creative licence. However, there are some loose wires between the vision and reality.

Firstly, the bar interior; the interior imitated a WW2 bunker, succeeding to a relatively high extent. The ceiling was a twisting maze of brass lamps, exposed wires and netting, the walls were black chalkboards with equations scrawled across and the seating areas were plush leather sofas and rustic low-rise tables. It was an enjoyable, comfortable, immersive setting. My only reproach surrounded the writings on the black chalkboard, which were an effective artistic choice, especially upon first entrance… that is until you look a little closer to discover the writings are more tacky than aesthetic. ‘Why? Why? Why?’ and ‘#Sherlock’ in particular struck me as pretty implausible for a WW2 bunker. The wonky hand-drawn ‘danger’ and ‘radiation hazard’ symbols were more thematic, but also rather comical. My personal favourite were several large drawings of the double helix twisted ladder symbol of DNA – a structure that was only discovered in the 1950s(!). I am being picky – the creative vision was certainly clear and commendable and I doubt many visitors spend time dissecting the wall decoration.

Secondly, the immersive activities. Similar to the interior design, the creative vision was strong, but the execution could’ve have been better. During the experience, your task is to crack codes and complete challenges to uncover secret plots, overturn cover stories and unmask traitors. The mechanisms to do this are superb – each table has its own ‘Enigma Machine’, a coloured cable puzzle, and padlocked bunker box of scientific vials, among other interactive elements. You are guided through the ‘secret service missions’ delivered in envelopes to your table by the roaming attendants. Each mission unlocked a new cocktail. Whilst the creativity behind the whole sequence of missions was sound, reality fell short. The envelopes were laminated for drink protection but with the high handling were split in so many places the clues almost fell out. The instructions inside contained numerous typos and mistakes. These issues must have already been raised by a number of visitors, as the roaming attendants were quick to tell us ‘oh, yeah, it says press four times, but just do it three’. Furthermore, whilst the dim lighting was appropriate for the bunker atmosphere, the text was near impossible to read – this was not convenient nor inclusive. The experience could be considerably improved by a simple reprinting of resources, with text made larger and copy corrected. This would allow guests to complete their challenges without additional non-game complication. It felt frustrating to succeed in a task, but fail because of easily correctable errors.

The drinking element of the experience was both fantastically flavoursome and horrifyingly ignorant. The Cryptic Cocktail Experience website homepage assures The Bletchley is the first cocktail bar in the world where every drink is unique and personalised. Whilst unique, they were certainly not personalised… Upon entering, we were asked by the attendant if there were any allergies, to which I replied ‘tree nuts’. The attendant gave a small laugh and said ‘we don’t serve food here’ as he walked away. For my second cocktail I was presented with a charmingly garnished cocktail, however once I’d taken a large sip, I realised it had an almond flavouring. I enquired at the bar whether the cocktail contained amaretto and therefore almonds, whereupon the three bartenders genuinely crowded around the amaretto bottle peering at the ingredients list before nodding at each other, and then to me. Another cocktail was promptly made, and each drink thereon was confirmed to me as ‘nut free’, I experienced severe discomfort later on, that could’ve been potentially very dangerous. Aside from that hiccup, I found the cocktails to be absolutely delicious, beautifully presented and unquestionably unique. I wish I’d known what was in the last one, so I could recreate it at home! It was exquisite.

Finally, the roaming table attendants were an odd presence. It was unclear if these were hired actors, or just eager bar staff. Half were in WW2 costume, half not. They seated new arrivals, answered mission questions and brought over drinks, they didn’t seem to have a script or standardised manner to enhance the delivery of the experience as in other immersive events.

On a lighter end note – the music was wonderful! The playlist consisted of 1940-style covers of modern songs, and it worked so well. You could recognise the tune, and even sing along, yet it still felt perfectly in keeping with the bunker setting. A great creative choice.

I did enjoy The Bletchley: Cryptic Cocktail Experience; it is creative in its code cracking activities, unique in its personalised cocktail deliverance, and impressive in its longevity as an experience in London. I was disappointed by a few features, and unimpressed with the approach towards allergens, but I must be one of the few, as The Bletchley has remained in the Top 20 Bars on TripAdvisors for 5 years running, and publications like the Metro sing its praises for the authenticity to the era. Tickets are at £38 which includes three drinks and is definitely worth the price. It is a fantastic immersive concept, and I hope future alterations allow the experience to be executed at a more premium level.

Reviewer: Charlie O’Neill