London Probably Is Ready for a Water-Only Bar

26/08/2016 13:31 | Updated 26 August 2016

Remember when the media got itself in a mild fluster over the news that Selfridges was due to open a "water-only bar"? The news was met by a fair amount of derision, though it was short-lived; the following day, the same news outlets published retractions and corrections to explain that (as one headline had it) "No, Selfridges is NOT opening a fancy bar that will only serve water." Instead, according to Metro, it will sell "water infusions, cocktails, wines and spirits," with filtered water available for free on request.

But, in a city which has recently seen esoteric pop-ups like Bunyadi (a clothing-optional restaurant) and a one-day-only bar where the bartenders were dogs (called, naturally, Beer D'Alsace-tian) and Shoreditch's infamous Cereal Killer Cafe, would a water-only bar really be that ridiculous?

Should we be drinking water like wine?

The stories around the new pop-up came complete with a quote from Martin Riese, one of around a hundred certified water sommeliers. Justifying Selfridges' decision, Riese stated that "Like wine, one can actually taste the region and depth from which the water comes."

He has also explained that, like the guidelines which determine the valuation of fine wines such as "label condition", the price of water depends on a number of factors that go beyond what's actually contained in the bottle. Age, limited availability, the design of the packaging and even vintage - the most expensive item on one of Riese's curated menus is a Canadian bottle of 15,000 year old glacier water - all play their part in determining how much a water can sell for.

Water bars across the pond

Sadly for London, and all the tastemakers scouting a world-first consumer opportunity in her, a water bar is not an original concept. Like most pop-ups that open up in the capital, the first one emerged in America.

With his status as a water sommelier, Martin Riese was put in charge of "Los Angeles' most extensive water menu" at the upscale Ray's & Stark restaurant in 2013. His selections included a $12 "taster menu", and a bottle of 90H20 - a brand of water, infused with a mineral blend perfected by Riese himself.

Molecule, which opened in New York City in 2012, took a different approach. The cafe sold the city's tap water back to New Yorkers, having filtered it through a custom-made $25,000 filtering system. The cafe also offers vitamin supplements to be mixed into customers' "water cocktails" - for a surprisingly fair $2.50 plus tax - as well as organic energy bars.

At time of writing, both Riese's menu a Molecule is still going strong, so perhaps the concept does have legs. Then again, with London drowning in pop-ups as it is, maybe adding more water isn't the best idea.