“Technically, chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change. It is growth, then decay, then transformation.”
These are words uttered by Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in the pilot of Breaking Bad, a series which sees his character transform from a wholesome high school chemistry teacher and family man to a ruthless drug dealer, serial killer and eventually fugitive on the run.
When Breaking Bad wrapped up its fifth and final season in 2013, fans all across the globe were crushed that they wouldn’t be getting their regular fix of Cranston’s character, Walter White and his alter-ego Heisenberg, any more. The crime drama is considered to be one of the best in TV history due to its suspense-filled plot lines, thrilling twists and dynamic performances. Nominated for a jaw-dropping 226 recognised awards in total, Breaking Bad won 110 of them, including 16 Emmy’s and two Golden Globes.
Fast forward two years and it’s announced that a Breaking Bad-themed pop-up bar is open in London for three months over the summer, courtesy of ABQ London. The concept is to legally imitate Walter White and Jesse Pinkman by creating concoctions using chemistry sets in an RV – the caveat being, that the output will be alcoholic drinks that can be happily consumed, as opposed to the mass production and distribution of methamphetamine. Obvs. Virtually every two-hour slot for 20 people to ‘cook’ cocktails in pairs is snapped up at lightning-speed and it’s quickly apparent that this is unofficially this season’s hottest city event.
Set on the grounds of a design studio in Hackney, East London, a titanic-sized RV – identical to the one in the programme – sits on a lawn and a team of ‘cooks’ in disposable yellow plastic boiler suits with goggles on their heads or necks hustle in, out and around it. Upon entering the vehicle, you can’t help but visually consume the makeshift laboratory all at once and then immediately draw comparison to the show. It’s a giddy moment for any hard-core fan, indeed.
Scientific apparatus such as test tubes, flasks, beakers, bottles, funnels, pestles and mortars – and other things that you might not be able to name unless you’re an actual scientist – are neatly organised on side countertops, which also host tile place-settings, each device containing miscellaneous and intriguing ingredients of all matters and colours.
‘Heisenberg’ is eerily scrawled in yellow across a dark brown panelled side wall, and a fluorescent blue facial image of the sociopathic character boldly adorns the back wall on a black background. His signature black pork pie hat sits on his head above his glasses and goatee, the image features notably sinister cracks in his face – alluding to symbolism of the product he so proudly produced and sold.
If you’re expecting an off-the-shelf mojito or daiquiri in this pop-up – you’re most certainly in the wrong bar. The complexity of combining the different ingredients is impressively challenging and the fun really is in the ‘cooking’ of the drinks. You’re left somewhat to your own devices, but help is on hand should you require assistance and in that case, you can pretend to be Walter White’s partner and former student, adolescent stoner Jesse Pinkman.
The cocktail that I help to cook is called ‘Saul’s C2H6O’ – named after Heisenberg and Jesse’s greasy budget-lawyer Saul Goodman; who’s paid handsomely by the duo to keep them on the right side of the law, in addition to this, Saul teaches them how to launder money and he also willingly undertakes other miscellaneous evil and scheming dirty work on behalf of the pair. This particular creation requires the use of a whipped cream dispenser, a bowl and electric whisk and a sieve, in addition to the aforementioned tools. At one point, two ingredients combine and a thick waft of dry ice emits upwards. ‘Ooh’ and ‘ahh’ moments are inevitable.
After putting some serious elbow grease into the production, I have myself ‘Saul’s C2H6O’ and just like the attorney himself, smooth the cocktail is; it’s a thick swirl of coral and translucent coloured sorbet in a petri dish, on a small rectangular serving board with a long spoon. The ethanol volume certainly is high in this one; it’s basically like having an alcoholic snow cone, though the accompanying violet candy drops on the serving board offset it with sweetness. On a balmy summer night, it’s pretty much a party in my mouth. Yumma.
As I exit the RV I notice the burnt one-eyed pink teddy bear from the show – whose relevance is still unknown – sitting in a glass case above the door. It’s touches like these that truly make the experience feel as authentic as such a thing can.
To put this mini-adventure into perspective; there are no tangible ties to Breaking Bad for the British. The show is set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, the opportunity to visit the set at Universal Studios or such is non-existent. The creator, producers and actors aren’t British – apart from Laura Fraser, who plays Lydia in the final season – and there are no British characters. There hasn’t been a full cast Comic Con panel or any main character appearances in the UK. In fact, it was only late last year that RJ Mitte (Walter White Jr/Flynn) attended Birmingham Comic Con. The queue to meet him was so extensive that it grabbed media headlines.
Cocktails and Chemicals has broken the fourth wall for Breaking Bad fans on British soil. This initiative has allowed us to experience an integral part of the show first hand. It’s almost a sure thing that most ticket-holders have never been inside an RV before, let alone an RV modified into a science laboratory for the sole purpose of chemistry activities. The idea and its execution are innovative, unique and nothing short of chemically pure genius.
So, if you’re in London this summer and can get your industrial rubber gloves on a much sought after ticket, why not have a go at breaking bad yourself? Bitch.