Sometimes you need to convince someone that rather than being a lager addled man-child with a predilection for kebabs, you’re actually a suave social chameleon with a penchant for the finer things in life. This blog is meant to help you take people to bars and other venues that reflect well on you; secret underground drinking-holes that only people who really know the vibe and pulse of a city could know about. But really you got it off this blog. Good luck!
I’ve always hated that all too familiar feeling of being judged for being drunk, chain-smoking my second packet of Malboro Reds and cooking on an open fire in a petrol station. Fortunately for me, being blessed with a near total misunderstanding of the concept of self preservation, I spend my holidays in crippled former Yugoslav republics where such behaviour is far more quotidian.
For the rest of you, who I know have been dying to drink up and light up in a petrol station, The Filling Station (a.k.a. Shrimpy’s) is perfect. Of course, I’m a pretty cool guy so I think that The Filling Station lost a lot of its rough around the edges, ‘you might die here’ charm that us east London types love when it started serving prosecco and seafood instead of diesel oil. Then again, I don’t get a vote because half the stuff I drink may well be unleaded petrol and I wouldn’t know the difference.
To clarify, I really hope that nobody reading this genuinely considers themselves edgy enough to consider their local Texaco garage a good place to party. Health and safety, the criminal justice system, GCSE chemistry and the most basic of human survival instincts dictate that there are probably better places to spend your Friday night. One of those places is Shrimpy’s behind Kings Cross station. On the canal just off York Way, the forecourt of this former petrol station has been turned into a bar and grill which is sunny, spacious, airy and, most importantly, nothing like the Cleveland-dungeonesque basement bars we usually review. This makes it perfect for all of you engaging in our national pastime donning shorts and t-shirts and pretending you’re not cold.
In the interests of thoroughness I should mention that the Filling Station’s refurbishment began with the opening of Shrimpy’s restaurant in the former service station shop. I can’t tell you much about it because, as women often like to remind me, I don’t deserve nice things so the nearest I got to the restaurant was the toilet it shares with the forecourt bar. That was very nice though. I particularly liked the anti-heroin lights.
Now a quick word about the forecourt bar. You may find that it takes a very long time to get served. If this is the case you’ve probably fallen into the trap as most of the other people at this bar fall. You’ve seen the long single file line waiting for the bar, forgotten everything you ever knew about anything, decided that you are in fact an american tourist, assumed that this is how bars work now and joined the back of the queue. Don’t worry you’re not the only one. Fortunately I’m here to remind you that you’ve been in a bar before and this is patently not how they work. Just walk straight to the front and get served almost instantly. That’s what we did but then again most people hate us so swift service could be seen as something of a pyrrhic victory.
Once you’ve made your way to the front of the queue via whichever is your preferred route you’ll get your first glimpse of the food and drink menu. Somebody with more lyrical talent than me once said, ‘variety is the spice of life’. The clever folk at Shrimpy’s have come up with the compelling counterpoint of, ‘no it isn’t shut up’. The food menu is limited to meat or vegetable tortas, corn on the cob or a seafood bucket. Childhood memories of singing ‘there’s a hole in my bucket’ and 4am trips to KFC have given me a vague understanding of what a bucket is but what the seafood is I have no idea. This isn’t Mr Shrimpy’s fault as I never bothered to ask and I had just eaten a pizza so I didn’t order it. I also have no idea what a torta is.
The drinks menu is equally simple: lager; cider; margarita; prosecco from a tap. In a round about way I mean this as a complement because beer that doesn’t say Carling on the side confuses me and the choice of whether I want garlic or chili sauce on my kebab is often too much for my pretty little head to worry about.
You get the point. You’re not going there to drink cocktails out of unicorn horns, discuss the relative merits of Tia Maria over Kahlua and wow your friends with how the extract of whogivesafuck has really brought out the flavour of your cocktail. You’re going there because it’s cool, it’s different and you’re so desperate to show off you’ve resorted to reading this blog. You’ll find a great place to enjoy the sun and look out over the canal with a beer discussing important questions such as: ‘if I’m on a barge am I ipso facto a pirate?’; ‘can river people shrink your head?’; and ‘if that’s a seagull where is the sea?’.
J.O. King's Cross Filling Station Goods Way London N1C 4UR 020 8880 6111 www.kxfs.co.uk
In a gross overestimation of this blog’s popularity and with a somewhat overoptimistic view of the breadth of our readership, we had something of a crisis of conscience. With the 14 degree heat of the pale English sun blazing down on us like Promethean fire, we realised that most of the bars we send our readers to are in basement warrens which are more Watership Down than Alice in Wonderland. Our poor readers, who definitely use this blog as their only source of London drinking information, were going to have nowhere to sit outside with a Pimms in thick jumpers wishing they didn’t live in bloody England. Fortunately for all(/both) of you, we’re finally reviewing some places suitable for people who don’t suffer from acute Photodermititis. We reckon that these will prove especially useful now that it’s even more damp outside my flat than in (a rarity) and the prospect of more sunshine seems as likely as a primary school teacher saying, "Today, children, we’re going to listen to Lost Prophets before watching Animal Hospital and if you’re well behaved then a local celebrity will fix it for you to have you dreams come true."
With that in mind I would like to introduce to the Old Fountain. It’s just off Old Street Roundabout and is easily recognisable from the fact that it looks just like all the other pubs in London which you don’t really want to go into for fear of being accosted by a drunk Scottish CAMRA member insistent on teaching you life lessons at 3pm on a Sunday. Don’t be put off and keep your eyes on the prize. Remember you’re here to get yourself a nice drink and enjoy it in the sunny spells of a lukewarm day. Even when you notice that the inside looks a bit like it might have been used on the set of Shameless or This is England, stay focussed on that nice refreshing lager that you’ll soon be enjoying. Even when you realise that for no ostensible reason there’s a fish tank which looks like its contents have been caught in Regent’s Canal, keep thinking about the tan that you’re probably/maybe/definitely not going to get after an afternoon on the...wait for it...roof terrace. That’s right, after 382 words of rambling nonsense, I’ve finally got to the point.
The Old Fountain has a perfect roof terrace for summer boozing. Due to something to do with weather, it catches the sun and stays sheltered from the wind. Handily, it also has umbrellas and heaters for those British summer days which one could easily mistake for the Arctic Tundra in December.
Now, connoisseurs of the Shoreditch roof top bar scene, a) need to get a hobby and b) will know that there is another roof top bar a stone’s throw from the Old Fountain and might wonder why I’m not reviewing that one instead. I am, of course talking about the Golden Bee. I’ll finish this convoluted diatribe with a few notes on their comparative merits.
First off; reasons to go to the Golden Bee:
You can leave and go to the Horns strip pub directly underneath it.
I can’t think of any others so now onto reasons to go to the Old Fountain instead:
It’s not absolutely packed with trilby sporting half-wits and extras from The Only Way is Essex in white suits checking their watches to make sure they don’t miss the last train back to Romford. They’re all busy showing off their diamante ear studs to other people I never want to meet in the Golden Bee. In fact, the Old Fountain isn’t packed full of anyone. One of its main attractions is that the Londoners flocking to find a beer garden as soon the sun comes out, as if they’d spent the last few months trapped in a Chilean mine, don’t know about it;
The drinks selection is extraordinary. Yes it’s summer so most of you will order either Corona, Pimms or Bulmers which makes the variety of interesting inebriators on tap somewhat obsolete. Yes, rather than learn anything about food or drink we prefer to compensate for our own mediocrity by making snide, ill-thought remarks about CAMRA meetings. But, from what little sense I can glean from the mire of half-memories of my Sunday there, there was some pretty ok stuff at the bar. (That’s right Timeout, let’s see you come up with criticism as well observed and hard hitting as this);
You will never, ever see any of us in there. If you’ve met us you’ll understand why that’s a good thing. If you were there that fateful Sunday, you’ll understand why we’re about as welcome there as a hug in a burns unit. In the full knowledge that my mother is reading this and that our half-arsed attempts at anonymity have, like any other good idea we’ve ever had, failed completely, I will spare you most of the details. In short, we found the perfect summer pub. Let’s not ruin it by getting too drunk, we said. Let’s not throw stools around while we pretend to be spiderman like simple-minded overgrown man-children, we said. Let’s not help ourselves to pints from behind the bar, we said. Let’s not make out with each other for no reason, we said. Let’s not...I can’t, I’ve already said too much.
Yeah we can’t go there anymore. You can. You should take advantage of that fact. Don’t make the same mistakes we did. Keep your clothes on. I’m so sorry. J.O. The Old Fountain 3 Baldwin Street London EC1V 9NU 020 7253 2970 www.oldfountain.co.uk
On their website a quote boasts: ‘Platform Bar and Terrace at Netil House has the intimate atmosphere of drinks round a friend’s living room’. How many people, not including the writers at The Hackney Citizen, can honestly say that their friend’s living room is hidden away in a gutted council block, replete with an array of salvaged and luxuriant furniture. Not only that, but with ‘kooky artwork’ and graffiti on the walls and large windows offering a sepia tinted sunset view over the rooftops of East London towards The City. They do say ‘atmosphere’ rather than ‘replica’ or ‘scaled model’ but I’m not one for semantics so will swiftly move on. Also, I have very few friends, let alone any who would have something resembling a living room, so don’t have many scenarios to compare this to...
The important thing is that Platform is a great place to demonstrate that you still have that detailed knowledge of London’s drinking venues.
It is situated just a short walk from Broadway Market, one of the best (if most expensive) food markets in London during the weekend and a pleasingly independent shopping street during the week, and London Fields where some of this city’s rich and trendy show off their new found wealth from gorgeous terraced houses or shiny new build blocks which seem to laugh in the face of Hackney’s urban poor.
Not only is the location enough to catch anyone’s attention, but the building and setting itself will also be sure to impress your guests. Platform forms a focal point of the creative collective that is Netil House. This includes a warren of studios containing a wealth of different artistic endeavours, regular artistic events and rooftop parties, and Netil Market which takes inspiration from Broadway Market round the corner with a well selected group of in-vogue food carts (they also form part of a group which manages the interesting Hackney Downs Studios and The Russet Cafe).
The entrance lies between Netil House and the arches supporting the North Eastern railway between London Fields and Cambridge Heath. Hold your nerve and purpose as you saunter down the shingled path - you are now practiced in the art of persuading people to follow you into dark alleys.
Two bouncers wait by a door at the end. ‘Platform?’ they ask; half implying that you’re only here for part of the show, half that you are part of an exclusive group who know about such special venues as this. Reply with a confident yes, indicating to your guest that you form an integral part of that group, hiding who you truly are, while also leaving them tantalising evidence of the fact that you know Platform may not be the only thing on offer within and around Netil House.
You will be directed up a few empty flights of concrete stairs. Eventually you will reach the bar itself; you are greeted by this ‘living room’ atmosphere. And it is surprisingly warm despite the fact the most people there are aggressively trendy. We’re not only talking the limb-crushing jeans but styles which with a bit more extravagance and irony wouldn’t fall far short of Dan Ashcroft’s ‘Geek Pie’. At least they’ll provide a talking point when you inevitably run out of conversation and are beginning to lapse into half-overhearing Indigo pontificate about the pros and cons of her new healing crystals.
The smells from the open plan kitchen tempt drinkers toward to delicious looking Persian inspired menu. However due to a mixture of only having 85p left in my account (I spend it on trawling bars so you don’t have to – see how selfless I am) and the fact that I’m a genuine heathen and only wanted lager, I didn’t eat on this occasion.
The drinks are good: well selected but mostly unremarkable. Finally, now you are armed with your poison of choice, comes the coupe de gras. It is supplies the logic for the name, vindicates its place on this site and provides a purpose for the sun.
It would take a writer with more descriptive abilities than myself to explain how they managed to make a bit of open concrete attached to an old council building next to a railway seem attractive, but trust me it works.
Platform Bar and Terrace at Netil House is the place to be, whether that’s relaxing in the calming cafe atmosphere during the day, soaking up the rays on the terrace, or flailing about like an eel (that is how to dance, right?) later on in the evening. Jokes aside, I know I’d certainly get a return ticket.
C.O. (Photos to come)
Platform Cafe,Bar,Terrace. 2ndFloor, Netil House, 1-7Westgate Street, London E8 3RL
Even the most inattentive reader of this blog will notice that the majority of bars which we have reviewed are either underground or, to some extent, hidden. They have been designed or set up in such a way in order to lure in idiots like us and trick us into thinking that they are cool by validating our need to be that little bit different; to know that little bit more than everybody else.
Wilton’s Music Hall, ‘the city’s hidden stage’, has all of this in abundance. The alley in which it is found does not show up on Google maps – making it the equivalent, to some Londoners, of the places on medieval maps where waterfalls tumble off the edge of the world and dragons roam free from the realms of logic. True to form, one person we were meeting there was found circling the area like a homing pigeon without a home. Clearly, then, it is secret enough to fit the bill.
It is the world’s oldest surviving Grand Music Hall and people have been drinking on the premises for hundreds of years. It has been providing Londoners with an ever-evolving range of on trend activities and drinking for longer than most. While some bars hark back to this forgotten age, Wilton’s is a relic of it. The location, design and history of Wilton’s give it an advantage over other bars which attempt to give off a similar image. The Mahogany Bar and The Green Room do not need to try to be cool bars; they are by virtue of their heritage. As a venue Wilton’s speaks for itself: it hasn’t covered up or overexposed the history – it is just a working venue that has risen from its knees to being able to strike a difficult balance in making this precious space available for the public’s enjoyment in a number of different forms, and preserving it for future generations.
Wilton’s is situated on Graces Alley, and lies a short walk east of Tower Hill or Aldgate, past railway-arch carwashes which look like they’d be willing to wash anything out of your car (think Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction dimmed by the gritty ‘reality’ of ‘Police Camera Action!’). Pass alleyways which, although clearly built in the sixties and covered in graffiti less inventive than the cocktail menu in a B@1, someone even less convincing than us might claim are the same streets in which Jack the Ripper committed his most heinous crimes.
Once you find the venue, you are struck by the beautiful exposed brickwork, which any kooky East-End bar would kill for but can only mimic, and a couple of battered wooden doors with gaslights hanging above them. Here you can finally begin to imagine a world before poured concrete and post-modern despair.
What makes the bars at Wilton’s all the more impressive is the fact that they are merely a sideshow to the main act – the music hall itself. Not only can you show off the fact that you are aware of the coolest places in London to drink, but also that you are sensitive to the historic fabric of the city. All the while (as all things vainly strive to) validating your colossal alcoholism by tricking yourself into thinking it’s for a good cause.
While Wilton’s would still be cool if it served tepid, flat Fosters, and while that is much closer to our standard poison, it offers a range of drinks which would almost be enough to make a harrowing suburban Wetherspoons worth visiting. The Mahogany Bar serves a twist on the selection of quality ales, lagers and ciders which have become essential to any cool London bar. From cider that is not spelled like cider and doesn’t quite taste of the piss you get in milk cartons in The West Country to beer made somehow more delicious by the fact it has sediment in the bottom, the selection on offer will allow you to impress yet again by demonstrating that you don’t only drink lager flavoured water. If you have been seen through so far, head upstairs to The Green Room and try some of their speciality cocktails which run on a seasonal menu (because where doesn’t). If you want to get weird with some mezcal (cf. Mezcaleria Quiquiriqui) try The Old Curtain, or if you want to be creative (and they actually have the ingredients) try The New World Alexander which somehow manages to create a cocktail out of the ingredients of a half decent soup.
Another aspect of Wilton’s which sets it aside is their offering of aperitivo on week nights - originally a Milanese tradition containing a selection of free light bite-sized snacks. I’m not a food critic (or a drinks one for that matter), so won’t comment on the nature of the nibbles beyond saying that it was nice and I liked it lots. Since I’m a savage I found it difficult to grace the fine line between politely grazing and stuffing my face, and definitely veered towards the latter. It’s an extra social nicety which just adds to the whole experience.
Of course, this should fit in well with the apparent British love of social niceties. We love queuing and we would never think to disturb the man dying on a tube escalator. However, this is a trend yet to catch on in London (watch this space). If I was being kind I would say that it hasn’t been a hit due to our weather: using that logic it’s impossible to eat inside. In reality it’s probably because too many of us are busy chucking too many pints into empty bellies waiting for the inevitable chippy or kebab binge on the bleary way home. Or this, combined with bars being too tight to consider the pleasure of their customers over that extra percent on their profit margins. Whatever the true reason, it’s unfounded, as aperitivo works an absolute dream at Wilton’s and any wise bar should follow their lead.
Wilton’s is a breath of fresh air and has an unpretentious crowd devoid of the cock-stifling jeans so often seen in the area. It is the sort of suave and sophisticated place that you might have imagined you’d be going to when you entered early adulthood or later, having finally grown up to appreciate life’s more subtle pleasures. Go here at least once to add sheen to the bleak reality that you’re stuck in a cycle of doing the same things, as I found out when I muttered on the way out, ‘all I want is a filthy kebab and a can of Red Stripe’ – ruining such a pleasant hiatus in the real world of cultured and functioning humans. C.O. With thanks to Katie from KBfoodphotos for photos, company, indulging morons like us and generally making this blog a lot less rubbish. You can follow her @kasiakatie. Wilton's Music Hall 1 Graces Alley London E1 8JB 020 7702 2789 www.wiltons.org.uk
When we started this blog, we rather grandiosely
decided that we’d keep our favourite bar secret, so that we were the only
uncool people in it. I think this may have well been vastly over-estimating the
popularity of this blog, whose viewership I think is pretty much confined to
‘me’ and my increasingly-disappointed parents. NO MUM I’M STILL NOT A LAWYER
That said, we recently found out that despite the best
efforts of a dedicated core of great people, our favourite
watering-hole in the whole of London is to be torn down to be converted into
luxury flats and a high-end restaurant. I mean, in a way, I understand, if
there’s one thing London needs it’s more people being priced out of the areas
they grew up in so fucking City Boy yuppies can sit around thinking they’re
Gordon Gekko meets Pete Doherty. No wait, that can fuck right off.
Unfortunate though it may be, we’re generally decent
people (court decision pending) and so we wanted to write about this place to
give you a chance to visit one of London’s last proper boozers before it shuts
its doors forever.
This Shangri-La, this Valhalla, this Oasis amongst over-priced cider with stupid flavours like ‘bubblegum’ that was what your sister
drank that year she went to V Festival and those twats who book all the tables
in the beer gardens from like 4pm in the summer (you know who you are, you
overly-organised wankers), is the Crown and Goose, Camden.
The Crown and Goose has a very special place in the
heart of all the people who write for this blog; it’s a great little place with
loads of character and really nice people, plus, fittingly for this blog, not
as many people know about it as they should. It’s a small pub tucked away near
Mornington Crescent, on a quiet residential street.
When you first walk into the Goose (it always seems to
be called by the latter part of its name, rather than the former) you’re immediately
confronted by the bar: ideal. Get to it then and order some lagers. The Goose
doesn’t have cocktails made out of mermaid scales or that taste like a Sicilian
sunset or whatever other bollocks I’ve half-remembered from cocktail menus when
I’ve bothered to read them. It’s a pub that does a damn good drink, there’s a
good selection of lager and cider on tap and there’s all your other standard
stuff like G & Ts and wine and Jesus I’m even boring myself now. It’s a
pub, you know what you drink in pubs, if you don’t I think you’re trying to run
before you can walk on this one to be honest.
The interior of the Goose looks like it was once an
old shop or house, and I’m reliably informed that once it was indeed just a
humble beer-shop. It is, however, very very cramped. I’m talking tube-level
cramped. It can get extremely busy, and I mean that type of busy where you have
to hold your pint at a weird angle so you look like a trainee contortionist,
and apparently if you’re short it can get very claustrophobic. Not that I give
one about that; suck on that short people.
However, and this is one of the great things about the
Goose, despite how busy and angular and weird it gets in there, it never ever
gets aggressive. In quite a lot of the pubs and bars in Camden you’re likely to
leave with quite a lot of glass lodged in your oesophagus if you politely ask
someone to ‘excuse you’ while you’re heading for the toilets. Now this may
sound like faint praise; ‘yeah, the Goose is great, I’ve never taken an
absolute pasting there even once’, but it really does make a difference, plus
for someone who acts like a total twat quite a lot of the time, the assurance
that my night isn’t going to end with me picking my teeth out of the gutter
with a broken arm is a big lure.
The Goose is a genuinely friendly place, even the
staff there are brilliant, they’re all good at what they do, are happy to have
a chat, and don't mind when you get so drunk you spill candle wax all over the
fucking place like some sort of confused bee.
Although I hardly feel qualified to review the food,
as I'm the kind of man who thinks a restaurant is fancy if the chairs aren't
bolted to the floor, I think I should mention that the food there is absolutely
delicious. Every single time I've eaten there it's been incredible.
Finally then, this review is a farewell to the Goose,
an obituary if you will. It will be sorely missed by all of us, and by many,
many others. I urge you to check it out before Barclays Bank swing a
wrecking-ball through it build another stainless-steel and glass cathedral to
the worst excesses of capitalism.
Go and have a pint in the sun outside and try some of the food before it comes
down: you’ll never find a pub quite like it.
Goodbye Goose. We love you, and you'll live on in our
memories. This can be your swan-song. Or goose-song. Do geese sing? I don’t
know what I’m talking about now.
The Crown and Goose 100 Arlington Road, Camden, London NW1 7HP
‘Speakeasy’ is a word used to describe London bars more often than the words ‘idiot’, ‘prick’, and ‘get out of my house’ are used to describe me. I won’t do Underdog the disservice of lumping them in with all the highly pedestrian suit-havens of the capital by describing it as such. It deserves better than that. Unfortunately, I’m borderline illiterate and can’t think of another way to say it’s a slightly-hidden bar under another bar.
Look, basically it’s the cocktail bar under Brewdog’s new pub in Shoreditch.
There appears to be no door policy at all when you go to the ominously cordoned-off and guarded stairs in the middle of the main bar and ask if you can visit the Underdog. I mean, they let us idiots in: genuine class-A morons who spent five minutes milling about in a corridor because we couldn’t find the door.
Once you’ve mastered getting through the actually-pretty-bloody-obvious door, stop and take in your surroundings. As you look around, much like when I look back at my behaviour over the weekend, it’s best not to ask ‘why?’. You’ll just upset yourself: 'Why are there so many dead animals? Why is there a voodoo corner? Why is there a box of hair?' At this point I wish we had some photos on this blog because I realise I’ve just made one of my favourite bars sound like the set of a Stanley Kubrick remake of the Human Centipede. It’s not. I promise it’s nice. I went there with actual women. They didn’t hate it.
I think that the disjointed lunacy of the decor can probably be attributed to the ‘I don’t give a fuck what society thinks’ attitude which permeates the entire Brewdog venture. That’s what takes it from creepy to really fucking cool; a feat I’ve never accomplished myself. Brewdog is ‘Beer for Punks’ brewed by two guys who decided to sacrifice every penny of credit available to them on the altar of ‘let’s make beer that we like more than other beer’. Brewdog is the sort of bold venture that people like me write about because we’ll never be cool enough to do something that awesome ourselves. If this is the first you’ve heard of them I strongly suggest that you Google the following:
‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin’ ‘Brewdog/Speedball/Nanny State’ and ‘how do I get out of this box I’ve been living in for the last five years?’
Obviously I love the whole punk thing because I was once at the beating heart of the modern punk movement. That is to say I went to Rancid gig. It was raining so I wore a sensible waterproof coat and I left quite early because I lost the phone which I had recently acquired on a generous but affordable tariff which made me sad. This gave me some time to reflect on the tattoos I don’t have. Yeah I’m not a punk. Most punks are smelly and scary and fortunately this bar is neither. It just wants to be your friend.
I realise that I’ve been building this place up a lot so I’d like to take a moment to reassure you. These guys have not ‘done a Proud’ and fallen off the cool cliff into the pretentious-and-wanky pit. You won’t feel out of place because you don’t own a pair of jeans so tight that getting a semi fills you with an all-consuming dread. As I said, this bar wants to be your friend. It also, much like my beloved Camden Town Brewery, wants you to be able to drink some really delicious beer. Their beer is so delicious, in fact, that we broke House Rule #72 ('Only drink lager if it’s warm and flat and has preferably been open for a few days') and ordered a case of it.
Here’s the really good thing about Underdog. While I am perfectly happy to drink myself into oblivion on lager and IPA alone, I understand that many of you like to drink these new-fangled fancy cocktail things. This presents a problem because the cocktail tends to be to beer what responsibility and consequences are to me: an absolute fucking nemesis. Finding a good cocktail in the same establishment as a good beer is about as likely as finding Salman Rushdie sunning himself on the beaches of the Persian Gulf.
In classic Brewdog ‘fuck this noise, I’m going to sort this shit out’ fashion, Underdog has produced a range of cocktails based on beer and cider. With beer reductions and other fancy chemistry which is an absolute mystery to me going on I started to get scared and calmed myself down with another three pints of the Dead Pony Club Pale Ale. My friends that did try the cocktails were full of praise though. At least I think they were, by this stage I was hearing colours.
Brewdog themselves say the following about their bars:
‘We are not cool. We are not pretentious. We just care. And we are your friends.’
Well, Mr B. Dog, I’ll be the judge of whether or not you’re cool. I don’t know if you heard but I’m a pretty cool guy. I don’t avoid buying skinny jeans because they’re a bit uncomfortable. I didn’t just come back from a holiday in Center Parcs. I never apologised to a police dog because I couldn’t be its friend. None of those things.
Ok, I’m not even remotely cool. Underdog is. Go there.
BrewDog Shoreditch 51-55 Bethnal Green Road, London, E1 6LA
Some of you who have read this blog a few times before may have realised that the guys who write it have been slaughtered in cellars more times than the entire cast of the Saw films, and like the films; we’re showing no signs of stopping. Garlic & Shots is the perfect setting for even more of the same then, as this particular basement is dark, cramped and playing heavy metal: brilliant. Now, you may be thinking that this is something of a departure from the hidden and often classy cocktail bars we tend to discuss. This is true, but I’m the kind of man who’s more at home in those pubs you find on industrial estates than those kinds of places so I felt more comfortable here. Plus, Garlic & Shots is actually pretty cool, in the same way there was that one guy in school who was cool even though everyone was a bit afraid of him and you’d heard a pretty unsavoury rumour about him involving a kestrel. As you may have guessed, Garlic and Shots is a bar that has a pretty obvious unique selling point, but just in case you’ve been drinking or you’re only glancing over this shoddily-written rubbish then I’ll spell it out. The garlic part of Garlic & Shots refers to the fact that all the food on the menu has garlic in. And I mean all; the website says ‘you can order more garlic, but never less’ so be prepared for that if you’re going there for dinner. However, this blog isn’t ‘places to go for dinner if you’re fucking terrified of vampires’, so we’ll move swiftly on to the ‘Shots’ element: Garlic & Shots has a menu of 101 shots, ranging from the fairly standard to the arguably criminal. Oh don’t worry though; quite a lot of the shots have garlic in them too. Say what you like about G&S, but they do exactly what it says on the tin. The front of the place is something of a drab affair, which only makes me like it more. When you’re wandering around Soho it’s nice to see a change from the endless parade of Pret a Mangers and cocktail bars with names like ‘Paradise’ and ‘Jewel’ that inexplicably are still in business despite the fact you never ever see anyone in them. A squat, grey little building sandwiched between two townhouses, there’s very little to say that Garlic & Shots is actually a bar, rather than say, a really pretentiously-named boutique or a greengrocer’s that’s decided to branch out into the firing-range game. When you go inside the ground floor is closer to a restaurant than a bar, but head through to the back and down the stairs into the basement. What you’re confronted with is the kind of thing I love: a dingy basement with a couple of tables in it and an extremely suspect drink menu. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not really very pretty, but it definitely all works. The metal that’s playing in the background only serves to add to the atmosphere and it’s absolutely perfect for getting fired up for the kind of night that ends up with you committing all Seven of the Deadly Sins, and possibly creating some brand new ones. When we turned up we had the Bloodshot, which was some sort of concoction involving tomato juice, chili and, quite obviously, garlic. Then we had some other delicious treat that may or may not have been the garlic honey vodka. Then some other things happened, which my recollection of is hazy at best, and then I woke up in a badger’s den in Victoria Park with someone else’s shirt on. Garlic & Shots is the place to take people for some shots about halfway through a night. It’s really fun, and everyone likes the whole garlic thing, plus if you’re sensible about it, you could probably choose some of the shots that are actually ok. Ideally though, you need to hit it at that point when you’re so drunk that a shot called ‘Racing Oil’ sounds like a great idea. Finally, I'd like to sum up with the mantra of Garlic & Shots themselves, which speaks to me a lot: 'If it isn't fatal, it toughens your body'. Perfect. Although that does sort of lead me to believe that the guys who work there have never woken up a furious badger at 4:30am. O.J 14 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4RD 020 7734 9505 www.garlicandshots.com
Passing Clouds is, more than anything (and more than can be said of their Dalston Cola), refreshing. I can’t think of a venue like it – and if you can then a) You’re a better person than me b) Could you show me where it is, please? And c) You should be writing this, not me.
Passing Cloud’s greatest strength is its variety – though at a base level most nights there do tend to involve too much drink and relentless hours of dancing at and around other people (don’t all?). As a man who thinks most clubs are mainly a louder and more annoying form of places where you jostle about next to other people you don’t know – like lifts, or Bank station at rush hour – this would not normally appeal. Passing Clouds, however, seems to be imbued with the spirit of misrule, which somehow makes this all you want to spend your time doing there. If this is not the effect it has on you, then reassess your life-choices – or for god’s sake have a detox and reinvigorate your relationship with serotonin.
I still think that Nirvana are cutting edge and am just as likely to kill any mood by playing Burial as by blaring out Slayer so I am in no way qualified to judge any venue’s selection of music, whether positively or negatively. However, there is something in the atmosphere here that means whatever is chosen is somehow, at that exact moment, the only thing that could possibly make you want to writhe, gyrate and jump around more intensely and for longer than before. A combination of this and the structure, not to mention the decorations, which could have been put together by someone blasted forward in time from the 60s in full flow, conspires to give Passing Clouds a sense of near free-fall fun.
Passing Clouds manages to cause such chaos, that if anarchy was transformed into an evening on the town, it would be here. Recollecting the next day (or a few days later, if it was a particularly big one or you woke up in Bracknell and had to make a confusing journey home), no one story of the night seems the same, and each small group seems to have just missed out on the most obscene aspect of the other’s evening.
It is situated just behind The Haggerston - an excellent choice for a few drinks before venturing into Passing Clouds - off an increasingly less bleak stretch of Kingsland Road. Once you’ve decided to enter into this vortex of a club, you can exclaim - ‘Look the entrance to this club is near where some bins are’, and all of a sudden the entourage you have collected from visiting the other bars on this blog will, almost now jaded, once again bow down to your superior judgement. The best way to demonstrate its combination of variety and chaos at this point is by discussing a recent visit. Since the ground floor was yet to be opened, we climbed up the stairs to the second. This is at times a pleasant escape from the mayhem downstairs – though I have recently seen someone pirouette through a table. On this occasion, despite being calm it was unnervingly so, and we soon discovered the reason why. We appeared to have stumbled into a rerun of the bleakest entrants to Britain’s Got Talent; witnessing a surreal and disturbing puppet show re-enactment/parody of certain Shakespeare plays. It was the perfect tone to begin an absurd evening.
Aside from the obligatory intense motion, and the occasional burst of reality brought on by a cigarette break, the night soon blended into a stream of mostly unconnected images. One clear thought was however, having seen them casually reclining at the bar, that someone had just decided to bring their albino python on a night out. Apparently this was Missy Fatale and her companion in a burlesque act, which I sadly missed.* I cannot escape from the fact that, having seen this creature, I was genuinely concerned that I would wake up adrift somewhere with my name and other useless details tattoed to the snake – fortunately that was not the case, unless I’m still dreaming.
Despite the clear attraction of this, Passing Clouds is not solely about such nights: is a multi-purpose venue and community project. There have been salsa classes, spoken word events and many more, on a busy and diverse schedule, while on Sundays they hold a regular community kitchen. While these are interesting aspects of the venue and all add to its allure, this is a blog about cool bars to show off with, and not a blog about where to take your difficult vegan friend, so you can understand why I haven’t focussed on them. Now, back to the getting drunk bit...
It can be difficult to get in due to the queues, and it is a bit steeply priced as nights out go. There is also the issue that not everybody will get along with its hippie leanings and laissez-faire attitude. I have also never been to a place where such a high percentage of people never stop smiling, which at the same time as being endearing can also be slightly draining for someone who loves to hate as much as myself.
However, I know that I would rather go here and jostle about with freaks that I can put up with, and join in with, than go to Movida, Mahiki, or another generic trash-heap and pay £5 for some water to be near people I hate, listening to the same music as the last time I went there by mistake.
I’d say I want go to Passing Clouds every weekend, but I know that if I did I would eventually explode.
*Dear Missy Fatale, I’m so sorry if I tried to touch the snake’s head more than once, despite being told not to. I know it was foolish, but he was so creamy and alluring.
House of Wolf boldly describe themselves as: ‘a multi-sensory experimental pleasure palace’. We were keen to see whether it could live up to the hype. This blog was born out of a hatred of shit bars rather than an appreciation of good ones and I have been looking forward to my first opportunity to go to town on some overrated shitheap. Unfortunately my first mercilessly scathing review is going to have to wait because Carlsberg don’t do cocktail bars but, if they did, they would be nothing like House of Wolf’s because Carlsberg is horrible and House of Wolf is great.
There seems to be something of a trend in London for serving caipirinhas and mojitos at 15 quid a pop to guys in suits rutting around Barrio East braying about how expensive their drinks are and, ergo, how fucking great they are. Well, I’d like to begin by assuring you that House of Wolf bucks this trend like water over a bridge.
Recently, we visited East London’s third best Lewis Carroll themed cocktail bar. I won’t do them the disservice of naming it, but it begins with 'C' and ends with ‘allooh Callay’. It won’t be featuring on this blog because I tend to assume that if nothing positive stands out in the sporadic memory-bytes of a heavy night, the bar was probably fairly pedestrian. That said, having sifted through the haze of broken images in my head-box, I remember a prolonged altercation with a barman in which he refused to serve me a ‘Lady Boy’ (if you don’t know what that is I suggest you start watching I’m Alan Partridge). In fairness, it was perhaps not the most fashionable order. But get over yourselves. I had done everything that this half-heartedly Jabberwocky-themed twat-den had asked of me: re-mortgaged my house to pay for their horrible Estonian lager; put up with rubbing shoulders with the self-entitled wankers that make up their clientele; not punched anyone in the face. I don’t think it was too much to ask for them to produce a couple of Lady Boys when, however bat-shit mental that may be, that is what I wanted.
House of Wolf, in stark and refreshing contrast, will produce anything you want. But that isn’t it. Their entire staff have been trained by the Delphic Oracle to produce the drink you want most in the world based on the most vague of instructions. With instructions such as, ‘he only likes lager and fags, what can you do?’ and, ‘can I have something that tastes of despair in a good way?’, they will work their magic. The result is a drink that is so much better than what you thought you wanted that it will make you question your ability to ever decide what’s in your own best interests ever again. Of course, I’ve never been able to get even the slightest inkling as to what my own best interests are so I’m rather hoping that I can hire one of their bar staff as my carer because I can't be trusted and it seems they know what's best.
Once you’ve had a bespoke cocktail and decided that you trust the bar staff with your taste buds, sobriety and credit card, I would strongly suggest an alcoholic experiment in the ‘Apothecary’. The House of Wolf’s Apothecary is the forum that inspired J.K. Rowling’s portrayal of potions classes, discovered what Tiggers really like and is the alma mater of Professor Wheeto. And that’s all true (it isn’t). Never has numbing your mind with hard liquor entailed such a degree of artistic merit as it does when exploring the Apothecary cocktail list. With everything from popping candy to Szechuan flowers making up the ingredients, the cocktails are a sensory experience akin to losing your virginity: excitement; followed by confusion; followed by euphoria; followed by a nagging regret that you finished it so quickly; followed by a lifelong desire to do it again and again.
At this point I should mention that, because I’m a child and I only like new shiny things, I never made it past the Apothecary cocktail list. Can you blame me? They’re served with edible desert islands and blocks of cheese. However, the other writers on this blog moved on to the House Cocktail list. They’re idiots so the only feedback I could get was ‘I want to go for a kebab on the way home’. However, had they spent more of their lives training to be sommeliers and less getting drunk behind bins I’m sure they would have said something like: ‘I enjoyed some creative twists on the classics as well as some totally new flavours. They were a pleasure to drink and came at a very reasonable price’.
Of course, you don’t always want a cocktail that is infused with black pudding, designed by NASA and produced by Gandalf (actually, I do, I want to stay there and never leave). Sometimes you just want one of the classics. House of Wolf’s non-exhaustive list of classic cocktails, all at £7.50, with a promise to make anything that isn’t on the list, is exactly how classic cocktails should be done. I like a Martini as much as the next man, but I don’t like B@1 bar staff pretending that there’s anything complex about making one.
What makes House of Wolf great is the imagination and creativity that goes, not only into their cocktails, but into everything they do. From the decor to the food menu the House of Wolf offers something new and different and borderline arousing to the London overindulgence scene. Of course, we didn’t try the food because we’re kebab-munching pikeys.
What makes House of Wolf the best cocktail bar in London is that all of this comes without an ounce of pretension. With cocktail ingredients listed as ‘some stuff from the garden’, vintage Placebo and Bloodhound Gang playing through the speakers and staff who are happy to indulge idiots like us, the whole set up is a relaxed and enjoyable beacon of hope in the all-too-wanky London drinking scene.
The 1800s saw the might of the Empire of the Great Qing rise up against the British and French Armies in two separate wars that would rage for seven years. The cause of all this kerfuffle? Opium. Obviously that time it was the drug Opium, but while almost certainly not as heavily addictive (to be fair, I wouldn’t know, I’ve never tried opium because I’m not completely insane), Opium Chinatown is sure to be the subject of a hell of a lot of discussion in Britain too. Having launched extremely recently, we were keen to try the delights of Opium as soon as possible, so we rushed down there one Saturday with some women we were desperately trying to impress. So desperately were we trying to impress them in fact, that we got there before the ‘amber light’ came on and we had to go and sit in a pub round the corner for half an hour before Opium opened. Fucking hell. The doorway into Opium is the perfect way to feel like you’re Pat Bateman (when really you’re more Pat Sharpe. Or at least I am, but I’m pretty sure the mullet’s going to make a comeback any day now, then we'll see who's laughing). They advertise themselves as ‘behind the jade door’, and they’re not lying. Alright, they are a bit, it’s slightly less ‘jade’ than it is ‘chlorine’ but let’s romanticise it a bit and say jade: 15-16 Gerrard Street is a nondescript door sandwiched between two Chinese restaurants, with a single buzzer beside it. Ring it - once the amber light is on that is, otherwise they’ll tell you to go away and you’ll have to drink warm flat lager in a sad pub round the corner - and they’ll buzz you in. Opium is built in an old townhouse, and as such, you walk straight into the stairwell and begin the climb up. We were taken up three flights of very well-decorated stairs to the very top floor, which gave an amazing view out over the top of Chinatown and down towards the river. The interior is particularly well done, it’s actually Texan-style. No, obviously not, it’s Chinese. Opium have painstakingly created the perfect Chinese / British fusion, right down to the wood used in the floorboards and the patterning on the seats. Then again, the nearest I’ve been to China is a day-trip to Hastings when I was 12, so what the fuck do I know about it? Basically, it looks loads like the bits I remember in House of Flying Daggers but I mainly remember that bit that happens in a blizzard so again, I’m a bit useless here. If anyone who reads this blog has actually been to China and would like to disagree, please leave a comment below which we can promptly ignore. It looks cool, alright? Anyway, Opium looks cool, smells like those rugs you can buy in Camden and has a massive cocktail menu: so far so good. Apparently Opium specialise in dim-sum, and it’s particularly delicious, but I wouldn’t know anything about that, because I was too busy panicking over the fact that the only beer I could see was Tiger for £5.80. Indeed, many of the drinks confused and scared me, casting an eye through the menu I noticed ‘The Classics’ as well as the many Chinese-themed cocktails, such as The Shanghai Surprise and The Kung Fu Fizz. All these interested me about as much as cocktails usually do: barely at all. But then, I stumbled across the area of the menu entitled ‘Chinese Temperance Cocktails’ (non-alcoholic in other words). These all sounded like the kind of concoction you’d read about on the internet if you Googled ‘how do i get gum out of hair not my hair’. I’m a fairly adventurous drinker, but cress? Parsnip? No, I’m sorry, these are a bridge too far. In the end, a friend of mine had one of the Temperance Cocktails, because apparently his tastebuds did something really evil in a former life, but he claimed it was ‘quite nice’. Some of the others we were with had a selection of the cocktails and declared them; 'stop asking me fucking questions about my cocktail, I already told you it was nice'. I, aghast at the price, only had a £25 scotch. It definitely wasn’t because I absent-mindedly said the wrong thing to the waiter at the last moment. Not that at all. It’s because I’ve got loads of money and when the bill came I definitely didn’t consider trying to pretend another man ordered it and trying to leave. (In fairness Opium is actually pretty reasonably priced if you’ve got a working human brain and don’t suffer from the Tourette’s version of the fucking Midas touch.) To sum up then: Opium is a really cool bar, with great, relaxed settings, and a good cocktail menu, even if some of them do seem like they were mixed by Beetlejuice. The price is right, and it’s perfect for pretending you’ve got your ear to the ground in the throbbing London bar scene. Definitely go, and if you go from the 7th, it’s Chinese New Year, so I have no doubt they’ll have some great stuff on. I know what you’re thinking. In answer to your last question: they left very shortly afterwards. After we took them to a lonely pub and I had an apparent brain haemorrhage whilst trying to order a drink, they cut their losses and they left. God I’m so alone. P.S: Puns I considered using in this review but then didn’t manage to: Crouching Lager, Hidden Flagon. Big Trouble in Tipple China. The Carafe Kid. C.J Behind The Jade Door, 15-16 Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London W1D 6JE 020 7734 7276 www.opiumchinatown.com