The Cocktail Diviner


To redefine The Bloomsbury Club Bar and develop an activation that would substantially increase both footfall and revenue


The development of the identity of The Bloomsbury Club bar was part of a larger piece of work that used a contemporary iteration of the values of The Bloomsbury Group to redefine The Bloomsbury Hotel.

These new values of ‘Connecting and Belonging, A Freedom to be, The Power to Crete, Joie de Vivre and intellectual Curiosity could be made manifest in the Club as easily as any other part of the hotel, but finding a more direct link with a cocktail bar to an academic group more interested in sipping afternoon tea while discussing art and economics meant that we needed to look more widely at the interests of the Group.

Mercurial and mutable, challenging and changeable, the Bloomsbury Group devoted themselves to prizing open conventions to find new ways to work, live and think. The world around them was opening up to new ideas, from politics to science. It also included psychotherapy and spiritualism. 

In the aftermath of the First World War, a grieving society in flux sought answers from the Great Beyond. Audiences gasped in packed-out theatres as magicians and mind-readers devised ever more extraordinary illusions. Drawing rooms all over London hosted intimate gatherings to communicate with the dead, while people of all backgrounds darted down back streets to secret rooms where their fortunes were told, their palms read and their fates spelt out on upturned cards.

In 1935, Virginia Woolf had her palm read at Aldous Huxley’s home, the palm-reader deducing she had ‘introverted’ fingers and ‘the Head line of a philosopher’. Mystical Hindu teachings, spiritual enlightenment, transformation and the new Theosophical movement all influenced her work. TS Eliot’s poetry is full of mysterious spiritual references while EM Forster was fascinated by the East, his novels referencing auras and astral planes. To this day, Quentin Bell’s statue of a levitating lady hovers over the pond at Charleston, inspired by a magic show at Piccadilly’s Egyptian Hall. This lead us to develop the Cocktail Diviner and ancillary items including menus, cocktail cards and a film.

Bar Manager, Scott Gavin, devised 14 cocktails each of which are linked to either an emotion or state of mind or being. All riffs on classic cocktails they include key ingredients that either heighten or subdue  the emotions to which they are linked. The concept harks back to the early years of the Bloomsbury Group (between 1900-1920) through a series of illustrations of these emotions, which are based on a deck of Tarot cards, designed in 1910 by Pamela ‘Pixie’ Colman Smith and the occultist and Tarot expert Arthur Waite who had strong ties with the Group. And also to a cocktail diviner, the design of which is based on end-of-the-pier arcade fortune tellers of the type seen in the same period.

How this plays out
On arrival, the guest is offered a small cocktail handbook which lists each cocktail and ingredients together with a short description of its ‘powers’. The guest selects a cocktail on the basis of how they are feeling or how they wish to feel.  “If melancholy has descended then a sip of Persian Mist will lift your heavy spirits. The ingredients in Forbidden Fruit will turn idle desire into enduring love, while Painted Veil curbs anxiety and Flaming Venom banishes envy.”

The guest is also given the opportunity to have their state of mind assessed by the Cocktail Diviner. A server wheels a velvet stand topped with a small glass cabinet hidden by a fringed velvet devore cloth to the table. The cloth is lifted to the view of each guest in turn and the head of an ‘Indian fakir’ or magician, flanked by the Emotion cards is revealed. When the guest places their finger on a touchpad then the fakir uses his ‘all seeing eye’ to assess the guest’s underlying emotional state; and an emotion card is illuminated. The cocktail book then reveals the cocktail most appropriate to their ‘divined’ state.

The result
The activation was hugely successful from Day 1, with guests selecting a cocktail above any other beverage from the get-go.
According to Bar Manager, Scott Gavin: ” This has to be is one of the most successful bar activations I have ever been part of. We have many more new people coming to try the bar than ever before, and over the six months since we launched The Cocktail Diviner bar revenue has increased by over 100%.”