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Black Dove, Kemptown: cocktails & DJs meet Victoriana

When my husband said he wanted to take a dusk picture of the Brighton Wheel before it was dismantled, I made preparations. I knew from experience this would be no selfie with a smart phone but at least an hour of experimenting with different tripod positions and shutter speeds. So, I brought along some reading matter and planned a nearby bar for my pay-off after.


The bar in question was The Black Dove in Kemptown. I must have walked past it a dozen times before but never been in. Within minutes I was kicking myself I hadn’t discovered it sooner.

It has a cosy but quirky décor without tying too hard, a sort of Victorian parlour feel, with walls a deep green colour I wish I could carry off in my lounge without turning it into a cave, and oddities like vintage anatomy charts and what seemed to be part of an old telephone exchange behind my seat on which I somehow managed to snag my hair.


A hen night of the non-banner wearing kind had bagged comfy banquettes in the huge windows at the back. Elsewhere drippy candles, some of them enormous, gave a slightly Gothic touch.


I make it my mission to know anywhere that serves decent cocktails in cities where I go out regularly. Yet lo, here were reasonably-priced cocktails (from £7 up) previously untried by me that by casting my trained eye over the menu I could tell would be good before I even ordered (list not too long, low on fruit juice mixers and innuendo-laden names, evidence of the bar doing it’s own twist on classics).


When I did order, a Tommy’s Margarita, I was impressed that the barman came round the front of the bar to better discuss my requirements with me and offer three choices of salt rim. The chilli version sounded good but having a bit of a current addiction to sweet and salty popcorn (how did it take the world so long to invent this?!) I plumped for a sugar and salt mix – and let me tell you, margarita lovers, you’ve got to try this.

As predicted, my drink was well balanced, as was the Negroni I had later in the interests of furthering my research. The Black Dove has all the usual pub fare besides (a selection of new beers are listed on its website), so non spirit-lovers like my husband don’t have to go the same route. They also do understated cocktail glasses so any blokes who don’t feel manly enough holding a traditional stemmed martini or margarita glass can stay in their comfort zone.

IMG_0761Around 9 O’clock a DJ squeezed in at a kind of dresser and started his set. Often this would be my cue to leave as even in my twenties (honest) I never could stand dance music, which grates on me like a perpetual mobile ring tone – but he was great, playing retro jazz and funk, and at a volume that created a loungey atmosphere without preventing conversations. Meanwhile, when I popped to the loo downstairs I discovered a different DJ was on the decks in a smaller basement room. (Check out the website for the various regular music slots).



Space, it has to be said, is limited at the Black Dove which is long and narrow, so get there early if you want to bag a table instead of standing near the bar.

While for Brighton cocktails I’d still first recommend the Cocktail Shack and 2016 Muddy Awards Best Bar winner The Plotting Parlour (a bit further down in Kemptown from the Black Dove) this is a great spot for a retro loungey atmosphere, hip without going the full hipster.

The Black Dove, 74 St James St, Brighton,


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