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Friday, 29 August 2014

Canvas, Shoreditch

“We are cocktails and art" proclaims new DJ-lates bar Canvas, hoping to explain what sets it apart from the herd. Let's see: "Whether it's through paint, print, interior design, or even our cocktail menu created by Jumbles St. Pierre, everyone and everything in Canvas laments (sic) the importance of passion, art and creativity within our unique and ground-breaking concept." By the look of the art on Canvas's blank canvas tonight, I'm not sure the acquisitive Mr. Jopling will in the  long-term lament not opening his cheque book to its young creators. There again, I'm more  Corot and Courbet than White Cube contemporary; so WTF do I know? What I can spot, is a decent cocktail. And what Jumbles St. Pierre (oh how I love a good Jackie Collins' read) has come up with is more persuasive than rough and ready decor that lies somewhere between Warhol's Factory and a Wild West saloon; Canvas's barmen in black, more Milky Bar Kid than Johnny Cash. Three to try, are dark diplomat (a chocolate-orange twisted 'Diplomatico rum Manhattan’), banana cabana (if you're sweet on sweet), and Wild Turkey and Frangelico, fruit-flavaoured slug, wild angel. Canvas sits midway between Hoxton Square and the lurid late-night chicken cottages of Old Street Roundabout. If the area's pallid peculiars are to adopt Canvas, its 'greeters' will have their work cut out, repelling repellant boozed-up oiks looking for the grotty cheap pub it replaces and visitations from plagues of Hummer-borne Billericay Fake Bake Biancas out on Saturday's rapacious razzle. However tasty ‘upcyled’ (sic) Patrón Silver, mango and lime, chilli-frosted punch, this weary old banging DJ bar-avoider would rather drop £12 at nice Nightjar, Loves Company or Happiness Forgets around the corner. 
235 Old Street EC1V 9HE 7336 0275 www.canvasbar.co.uk


Monday, 25 August 2014

PimpShuei, Farringdon


While I was entering the world of French art-house films, pretending to understand and like pretentious 60s glossy toss - bonjour, Alain Resnais' Last Year At Marienbad! - my unsophisticated classmates were happy to Enter The Dragon. Confession: I have never watched a Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee film. Ever. My grasp of this popular niche genre - cue howls of derision - is limited to Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting (http://tinyurl.com/6sdvpkt ), a 1974 UK/ US chart-topper by Jamaican cod-karate chopper Carl Douglas whose interest in Chinese culture, I imagine, nowadays extends to Char Siu Chow Mein, a portion of number 14 and free prawn crackers and a Coke from Der Kung Fu Kottage in his adopted Hamburg. Squirrelled away off Gray's Inn Road, is PimpShuei - a 'one-of-a-kind dive bar with a 70's-80's chop-socky vibe.' I drop in more out of curiosity than in expectation. Set in a basement rented off the 'sensational dinning (sic) experience' that is hot stone steak house, Rango's, above, the enthusiastic new lessees have turned what, as The Blue Bar, was billed as a 'classy yet casual cocktail lounge', into a New York hustler-style hangout that grooves to Blaxplotation flick soundtracks à la Cleopatra Jones. All martial arts murals, tawdry Guangzhou geegaws, retro arcade games, Kung fu film posters, a cinema-sized projection screen, and converted ghetto-blasters showing sock-it-to-him Shaolin nonsense on their inset tellys, the Look is Cantonese Kelly Hoppen karate choppin' kitsch. Tsingtao, Asahi and a rudimentary wine selection apart, the focus is on cocktails. Cheery Chinese co-owner 'Slash' says these will eventually number two dozen but tonight, days after its launch, there are only four on offer. Wong Island and Bangkok Dangerous discounted, my Pat mojito - Kraken rum, aloe vera juice, lemongrass and maraschino - is tangy and  fair at £8. The chum's gimlet - not exactly the most taxing of off-menu calls - is competently executed. Amateurish and raw perhaps, but put together (on the cheap) with soul and passion, PimpShuei feels a lot more authentic than the corny karate kid pulp shown on its screens.

58 Mount Pleasant WC1X 0AY https://www.facebook.com/pimpshuei

Friday, 22 August 2014

Soho Grind, Soho


I'm at the launch party for this Soho cellar-ette, a cocktail bar on a coffee theme from Silicone Roundabout's mocha pimps, Shoreditch Grind. The PR chick - whom I've never met before - is on fire. Even after sixty shots of her client's richest ristretto coffee, I'd be lucky to be a tenth as bouncy, bright-eyed and upbeat as this beaming bird. If she ever jacks in the day job, she'd be a natural in Tenerife - selling time-shares by the dozen to even the most recalcitrant of tourists. An evenings-only funky white retro styled squeeze box, the basement shakes to banging beats. Cue He's The Greatest Dancer. PR girl, seemingly incapable of standing still, is down with the Sisters Sledge; throwing disco shapes, and Soho grinding like a dervish rubber dolly. Alt career plan C: pole dancer? Through a hatch, an ex-Tramshed shaker slings espresso martinis and flat white Russians (Chase vodka, espresso, Kahlúa and microfoam steamed milk), Tommy’s margarita, barrel-aged ideas and gin-out the jams - a smart way to use up your Mum’s Tiptree rhubarb and ginger jam, combined here with gin and Antica Formula. Beginning to feel hyper, I'm off. Is my edginess down to the caffeine or PR prancer who reminds me of a brunette Michaela Strachan, pasty Pete Waterman's partner in perpetual motion on essential 90's kitsch late night viewing for wired clubbers, The Hitman and Her. As I exit, I offer a parting shot. In the gay heart of W1, they've missed a trick: why no cocktail called Soho Grindr? 
19 Beak Street W1F 9RP http://www.sohogrind.com/ 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Bleach Bar, Dalston

Happy in what she does for a living now, my pal Sheridan once aspired to be an actress. Unlike her namesake, Ms Smith, her career never really took off. Still, her CV does run to a scene with a massive Hollywood star - Leonardo DiCaprio. Flown to a That island paradise for weeks on end, she was part of Leo's gang in Danny Boyle-directed Year 2K flick, The Beach. Cast as 'Beach Community Member' - according to her only entry on IMBD dotcom, the industry database - she was clearly too charismatic to be a mere extra. So, Sher was given a script to learn for her big scene with DiCaprio. When Leo leaves the beach for the mainland, he asks what goods his posse wants brought back. The camera homes in on Sheridan for the chemically-assisted faded blonde's immortal words, "A bucket of bleach!" - a line that crops up whenever her joshing chums sort out a round in a bar. "Don't ask Sheridan; hers is............" Bleach and drinks by the bucket? This new pop-up bar, open until15th October, has her name on it. Purveyors of those Haribo-tone dye jobs currently sported by Hoxton's hipper heads, Alex Brownsell and Sam Teasdale of Dalston salon Bleach have taken over a former Chinese takeaway. Run in conjunction with high-end fashion-shoot caterers TART, the Bladerunner-esque joint is set to be Style Central, with the achingly cool venture's starry chums doing stints behind the bar, I hear. Expect lurid goss and matching cocktails  - rat-milk and wonky direction, for instance, and alco-lollipops and frozen margaritas. A few of those to the good, take the plunge! Inspired by another fine actress, Mollie Sugden and her greatest comic invention, Mrs Slocombe, all it takes to achieve Autumn 2014's hawt hair, is a shocking pink dye...and a bucket of bleach.
428 Kingsland Rd E8 4AA (open 6pm - 2am)   http://bleachlondon.co.uk  

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Chelsea Pensioner, Chelsea


Technically speaking, I live in Chelsea. To all you incredulous East Londoners, here's 'WHY?!!!' 1. Hard to believe now, but once upon a time, King's Road was the Dalston de ses jours 2. Unlike Poplar or Peckham, an explicit condition of residency is that you take a minimum of two showers daily... using products not available in Poundland. 3. Surrounding myself with Made In Chelsea's (fragrant) heirheads and chinless chumps, as opposed to Homerton hipsters, allows me to perpetuate the self-delusion that I'm still 18 and edgy. Technically speaking, I am also now grown closer to getting my free bus pass than to passing out, pished, after free love upstairs on a night bus. Some aspects of my wasted youth, I REALLY do miss. So, just a short stagger away from my now ludicrously unattainable nano-pad, bought for buttons back in the day at a price that would not secure a Clapton closet in today's febrile hyper-inflated market ( #pension #poolinprovence #funded #smugbastard), The Chelsea Pensioner has my name on it. Once The Black Bull pub, like so many other locals, it too seemed destined to end up as a Metro/ Local/ Little Waitrose flogging truffle oil, beluga, Bollinger and all life's other necessities to the filthy rich foodies that have overrun my manor. Opened by the stylish cove who owns Simmons, King's Cross and Camden cocktail lounges, a neon sign in its window promises “cold beer and a warm heart” - the latter, a rare find in mercenary SW3/5/7/10 these days. If the Royal Hospital's red-coated old soldiers' mobility scooters manage to propel them to the Royal Borough’s western boundary,  they’ll find jokey, retro, pick’n’mix decor, Meantime and Camden on tap, Prosecco at £15, Rob Roy and daiquiri cocktails, flatbread pizzas, a pool table, a cute patio yard and, quite possibly, yours truly propping up the bar, reminiscing about Chelsea's golden age when home-grown punks and peacocks, not minted Muscovite trash and Euro hedge funders' frosty-faced salon-blonde bitches, paraded its main drag.
358 Fulham Road SW10 9UU http://www.thechelseapensioner.co.uk

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Call Me Mr. Lucky: Borough


The bartender spins the arrow on a wheel of fortune. Fired-up punters scream and yell like pussy down the well. Such is the hubbub, you'd imagine at stake was a free Bankside loft, not a tequila shot (numero 3 of more to follow). I'm being pestered by a wee Glaswegian blonde. Claws dug in, she's all over me, trying to budge stubborn stool pigeon from his perch. "Aaaaw cum-oan! Dance wi' me, ya big basturt!" she slurs, imploringly, perhaps taking me for Strictly's Slovenian stud-muffin, Aljaz Skorjanec - an easy mistake to make when you're 'miroculous' as they say in Govan. So infectious is the piss-up party mood at The Breakfast Club's latest 'secret squirrel' hole-up, I would be indeed up for a jig, if only they hadn't dropped Sting's "Don't Stand So Close To Me!" (Capisce, blondie from Buchanan Street?) Happily, Trudie's tantric tosser and the Brummie nasal whine of UB40's Red Red Wine are the only two duds on a retro soundtrack that covers everything from The Archies' Sugar Sugar to The Average White Band... if not the O Jay's '72 track the bar shares a name with. I'm also sold on £8 cocktails such as lucky rostini (a tequila and plum liqueur relation of the negroni) and Ruby Murray (a tandoori-infused bourbon and Cointreau sour), while my brave drinking buddy declares himself a fan of pea diddy (rum, pea puree, horseradish, lime and pineapple J). We're given a trio of nips to knock back in quick succession. Sadly, 'salud, amor, dinero' - i.e. 1.tequila 2. jalapeño-gazpacho-ish gubbins 3. c***ing coconut water (the Devil's semen) and mint - ain't my definition of 'mint.' But then, I'm not a Mexican masochist. Shonky shots aside, I'm with the The Breakfast Club's owner who he tells me "We just wanted to do a damned good dive bar." Mission accomplished! And, by the looks of it, on a Poundland budget: my kitchen once wore the same garish paper lanterns strung across Lucky's u-shaped bar; until my father sniffily suggested he buy me something "more suitable from Heal's." The lounge's low-rent look - somewhere between Phoenix Arizona and Phoenix Nights - works for me. If you do manage to crack the 'open sesame!' code here, like 'Lucky' Lucan - the notorious Lord who's been AWOL since 1974, accused of murdering the family nanny - you may never be seen again. Call Me Mr. Lucky is the sort of den you won't want to leave. 
11 Southwark Street SE11RQ
 https://www.facebook.com/callmemrluckylondon

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Communion, Camberwell


I recall my maiden trip down South. We visited family friends in London. "Mummy! Mummy! Look! Real gollywogs!" I yelled, pointing at West Indian elders got up in their best suits. Away for the very first time from the genteel confines of my white sliced bread Edinburgh crib, Camberwell came on like the Congo. In monotone Scotland, the only black dials I'd yet clocked were on a Robertson's jam jar or singing Mammy! on the Minstrel Show. (Readers under the age of 30, watch and weep at what topped TV schedules back in the day http://tinyurl.com/onrlmdg ) To me, Camberwell - with its Little Richard and Cliff Richard lookalikes riding in chrome-finned ice-cream-coloured Ford Zodiacs - was colourful, strange, exciting and deeply exotic. Nowadays, I'm scared to go there. Knife crime? Muggings? Too many fire hazard acrylic weaves and wigs? The latter, possibly - but it's also home to Labour big(bad)wig Harriet Harman, a po-faced PC puritan who would surely have me up before the beak for my unintended racial slur - no matter that I was 4 and it took place back when TV was still segregated into black and white. Tonight, I've been commissioned to review Communion, a live music bar beneath the Church Street Hotel's Hispanic restaurant Angels and Gypsies. Some "Jesus!" stained glass- effect windows aside, the room stylist has mercifully not gone into Hail Mary overload. But the owners have carried the theme through, with wafers and communion wine offered on each table. Musty and astringent, the mass murderous vino might as well be Pope Pius VII's piss. Thank Christ I don't follow Rome! Or wear a yellow hankie in my back pocket. Fortunately, divine intervention presently appears in the form of praiseworthy cocktails from a list that's strong on rum. Shanty town (£8, pictured) is a standout: Gosling’s, Velvet Falernum, ginger, lime, orange bitters and a gloop of molasses in a tiki mug garnished with candied orange wheels and honeycomb. Anointed by the juice of grilled Sicilian lemons, a mezcal and Cherry Marnier martini is a quasi-religious experience and my chum's choices are no less revelatory at around £9. Top tapas and perky tortillas, bussed in from upstairs, are unimpeachable. Not so, another idea that comes in a stoppered vintage lemonade bottle. Grass Arena (after the John Healy novel about alcoholism) mixes whisky, Special Brew and Buckfast tonic wine as drunk by brain-damaged Glasgow NEDs frae Drumchapel. This liquid unholy trinity aside, Communion could yet convert me to the Camberwell credo.
Church Street Hotel 29 - 33 Camberwell Church Street SE5 8TR 7703 5984  http://www.communionbar.com/contact/