The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History is here to fascinate you with the strange, the unusual and the afterlife.
Located in a former call center in London’s Hackney district, it’s home to the Last Tuesday Society, originally founded in 1873 by a Harvard student. The company was languishing but was revived in 2003 by a young recluse who actually called himself Viktor Wynd. He created the museum and modeled it after a 17th-century wunderkabinett, or cabinet of curiosities.
Within its walls you can find exhibits such as the skull of a Cyclops, a Fijian mermaid, a quartz dildo, and vintage specula. The museum’s website warns that “no attempt is made at classification and completeness.”
This collection caught the eye of a young couple, Allison Crawbuck and Rhys Everett, who both worked as bartenders in a corner. Crawbuck is a Brooklyn native who studied art history in New York and Florence, worked in New York galleries, then moved to London; Everett, originally from London, has been working in the bar industry since he started working.
The museum originally had a small cafe that served unusual meat (crocodile burgers and kangaroo meatballs) and tea, but Wynd had other ideas. “Viktor was looking for someone to take over the bar over there,” Crawbuck says, and create something appropriate for the environment. Who could say no? In 2016, the couple became co-owners of The Last Tuesday Society cocktail bar.
Crawbuck arrived with his fascination with history intact and began to delve deeper into the history of drinks, especially the connection between alcohol and the occult. After nearly five years of twisting its dark past, Crawbuck and Everett have just published their knowledge in the new book, the Spirits of the Otherworld: A grimoire of occult cocktails.
Halloween is, of course, the season when traders are eager to tie the most mundane items to the sepulcher. If I had a dollar for every press release from a liquor company that used the word “BOO-zy” to tout their Halloween cocktails, I wouldn’t be writing this story. I would live in the Scottish Highlands and occupy the parapets of my old castle.
But there is a deeper and more fascinating connection between alcohol and the next world than strained puns. When researching the early history of alcohol for a book, I was delighted to learn that distilled alcohol was once called “the epitome.” This translates from Latin as “the fifth element”. High-grade alcohol was something new, and not like the other four known elements: earth, fire, water and air. It was magical. It was liquid but burnt. It prevented putrefaction. And when consumed in sufficient quantity, it provides amazing information. If you are wondering why hard liquor is called “spirits,” now you can stop wondering.
Crawbuck and Everett eschew Halloween craziness and flying witches and odd-smelling CVS masks to deepen those connections. Being surrounded in their bar by curiosities and artifacts from an invisible world inspired them to explore these realms via cocktails.
A “grimoire”, as Harry Potter fans know, is a book of spells. And their Cocktail Book keeps that promise, not only by offering well-crafted and intriguing drinks, but also short scholarly essays on many and varied aspects of early spiritual and occult life. These range from the Egypt of 6000 BCE to the more modern but even stranger Aleister Crowley with intermediate stops to a 1487 German treaty on witches, the Inca Empire and Polynesia of before contact.
The majority of cocktail books begin with a carefully crafted and researched drink that is then placed in the context of a historical vignette. Crawbuck and Everett did the opposite. They started with some relentless research – she’s the couple’s historian – and that was followed by an essay on, say, Russian shamanism. Next, they created a sophisticated, research-inspired drink. Many of the cocktail books that come out of the bars are essentially house cocktail lists, albeit lavishly produced. It’s not – Crawbuck says only three or four of the drinks have ever been served in their bar. The rest was created for the book.
And the book is lavish – it’s amazingly designed and beautifully photographed. This isn’t a cocktail guide that you quickly dive into in search of a recipe, but instead you walk in and marvel, like exploring an old mansion with lights not working. , unfamiliar noises and a distant musty aroma. “We would come up with a curious story and find a way to translate it into a drink to spark a conversation,” Crawbuck explains.
Consider this: You might have enjoyed a Vesper – a variation of a Martini made famous by James Bond – so you might be interested in the drink’s name’s long connection to the planet Venus. This then opens the door for a lesson in botanical astrology – which was one thing – and the idea that certain planets and signs of the Zodiac are related to certain herbs and other plants.
They found a helpful guide on this subject with Nicholas Culpepper, a 17th century British herbalist and apothecary, who would prescribe certain herbs for those who wanted to channel the powers found in, say, Venus. “Our history of mixing drinks owes a lot to the unorthodox remedies of the weird and wonderful apothecaries,” they write.
Nonsense and whistle? May be. Modern science may dismiss the connection between a leaf and a weakly distant light, but if you have the slightest interest in history and the way we once saw the world, that’s quite exciting.
Crawbuck and Everett’s research into the history of cocktails led to a fascination with absinthe, which “has been praised for its magical properties since ancient Egypt,” they write. In 2020, the couple opened an absinthe distillery, aptly called Devil’s Botany, producing traditional absinthes with the mission of educating drinkers about the legendary liqueur. Absinthe experienced a radical revival about ten years ago, fueled in part by extravagant rituals (burning sugar lumps, reproduction of Victorian absinthe drops). He has since disappeared from the bar scene somewhat, but Crawbuck believes he’s ready to settle into a more enduring role of respectability. Absinthe is now more sold than gin in their bar, and they are working to get their bottles to more London bars.
Halloween isn’t a big party in Britain, says Crawbuck, at least when it comes to costumes. She learned about it on her first Halloween in London seven years ago, when she spent hours painting an intricate skeleton on her face. On the streets, she found herself seen by passersby as a strange oddity, with few others around her in disguise. “And pumpkin carving isn’t a thing here,” she adds. She has since made pumpkin carving mandatory among their staff. “Now they’re in it. “
Minimizing a scary vacation might be for the best. Celebrating the occult and the afterlife for just one day a year seems rude and unhealthy, especially when the occult is around us every day. Crawbuck and Everett hope to open the doors to this other world, invite people in, and introduce them to the power and charm of the unknown.
“It’s a spellbook for your senses,” Crawbuck says of their volume. “We will help you explore alchemy, the dark arts, and the spirit world. And it’s a great excuse to get together with friends.