Walking down the narrow stairs that lead to London’s Discount Suit Company, I have to watch my head. The 18th-century corner building in Spitalfields is a dream spot for a hidden cocktail bar, with low ceilings that are extra low at the entrance. Located in the stockroom of a former street-level tailor shop, this basement wasn’t designed to host hip East Londoners looking to cut loose. But here they are, packed into the dimly lit space with exposed brick walls, wooden beams and leather loveseats perfect for hushed conversations, despite the loud buzz.
I squeeze my way in at the counter where bartenders are shaking cocktails to old soul tunes. The upbeat vibe here is provided by a 45 spinning on a turntable at the corner of the bar. The song changes, and the familiar first bars of “Tainted Love” fill the air, but something is different. It is not the well-known 1981 Soft Cell opening with bleeping and blooping synths, it’s the smoother, dancier original from 1965 that hit the airwaves when this building was still in the business of making cheap suits. The raspy voice on the track belongs to Gloria Jones: an American musician who found belated fame in the U.K. where she earned the nickname “Northern Queen of Soul.”