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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen, Kentish Town

In the grim, grey, not-so-gay days of the 1970s, any unfortunate bent gent caught hanging out in the gents risked being felt up...only, not in the way he'd hoped for. For Lily Law, loitering lads were an all-too-easy cop. Nowadays, 'cottaging' (ask your grandpa') has been rendered redundant by Gaydar, Grindr and, if you like it rough, Recon. As for those caught short, after the old public conveniences became an inconvenient drain on councils' resources and shut, McDonalds finally had a purpose. Squatting every high street in the land, the ubiquitous Yankee burger chain is a blessing to bladders about to burst (Purchase, neither necessary nor advised). Lately, however, London's long-abandoned privvies are being snapped up by shrewd bar owners. Where once randy buggers' cocks cruised tail, cocktails are now being served. Bermondsey Arts; The Convenience in Homerton; WC at Clapham Common: the latest reconfigured loos to add to a growing list are in Kentish Town where William Borrell, owner of Vestal Vodka, has done a decent job (enough with the puny puns!) with his own khazi conversion. A mix of original Edwardian gubbins, jumble store jollies and paperbacks by the yard (something to read on the throne?) set the scene for a short list that will be regularly refreshed. Spend a penny (800 pennies, to be precise) on china teacup serve El Dorado 12 hot buttered rum; Portobello Road gin sour, Rhubarb and Custard, served in a Bird’s tin; or a Bulleit-based Gentlemen’s Old-Fashioned that bungs butterscotch and Werther’s Originals into the mix. Launched in December 2014, a steady trickle through Borrell's bogs' doors suggests this will be no flash in the pan. I arrived late, so I can't report whether they do 2-4-1 happy hour cocktails, known in such establishments as a BOGOF deal, natch.
2 Highgate Road NW5 1JY @ladyandgentsbar 

Friday, 16 January 2015

Lima Floral, Covent Garden

My list of famous Peruvian exports is short. There's my childhood chum Paddington; my mate Deborah's ex-lodger, a snapper called Mario (who could now buy up all of Peru, never mind afford a London pad of his own) and operatic loungecore diva Yma Sumac (who some argue was born Amy Camus in Brooklyn and, so, doesn't qualify). Them, and pisco. Distilled from grapes, Peru's brandy-like national spirit has become increasingly popular in London's bars, as fickle trend-chasers trade mojitos and caipirinhas ("too TOWIE for words, hon") for pisco sours. The classic lime-laced recipe (£8.50) is present and correct in this new Peruvian restaurant's buzzy dark cellar bar, run - somewhat implausibly - by a jolly brave, jolly Estonian couple who had never ventured much beyond Tallinn before taking on the gig, they tell me. Other ideas tend towards the sweet and fruity: an orange and lemon-infused pisco, watermelon and apple Collins and Casi Peruano, a perfectly doable pisco slant on a negroni. The only drinks downer is when Mr Tallinn commends me his finest chilli pepper-infused pisco and strawberry martini (pictured). If my name was Chelseigh (20, nail technician from Charlton) and I was handed one to get me in the mood to splash out on a puce Rabbit, crotchless panties and nipple tassels at my first ever Ann Summers-at-home party, I'd probably rate this syrupy, cloying chilli horn-garnished sinner "lush." To my taste, it is more Lush as in high street purveyors of not-dope soap. Noticing I've left it left untouched, a dried-down, better, version presently appears. “Pisco" translates as “little bird”: bird-like appetites will make do with just one dish from a selection of muckle piqueos - Peru’s answer to tapas  Escabeche of paiche (an Amazon freshwater fish); zingy, fresh and flavoursome tuna and ginger ceviche in tiger’s milk, and anticucho - velvety, tender rare beef loin with chilli and corn puree (£10) - are hits. Roasted baby aubergine with cashew, cheese, coriander and cress might look pretty on the plate but, en la boca, suggests being a veggie may not be much fun in Lima, old bean. 
14 Garrick Street WC2E 9BJ 7240 5778 

adapted from my review for

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Original Sin, Stoke Newington

Happiness Forgets regularly appears high on those ubiquitous year-end Best Bars lists. Quite right too! No arsey doorwhores. No narcissistic nobs punting molecular fanny. No cringeworthy concept (PR imagines "pre-Revolutionary Romanov luxe in Fabergé jewel brights infused with the decadent spirit of Studio 54" while I imagine Boney M tribute band in traj tin-foil outfits murders Ra-Ra-Rasputin at a Hornchurch hen night. No Cristal-fuelled Kanye and Kim klones. No £25-plus anodyne Asian share boards as flogged for a quid -with free Peter Andre CD - at Iceland. No! Just delightful down-played decor and damn fine drinks. I too am all Happiness to be at owners Alastair Burgess and Andy Bird's Hoxton Square dive whenever I'm not feigning interest in launch night bourbon and butterscotch slush puppies at some Shepherd's Bush shithole (you know who you are!) or the likes. In the quiet downtime of the first week of 2015, I make it to Burgess's Christmas present to London nightlife; his second sexy saloon, a lo-fi linear cellar that has me from hello. Butch brick and wood panelling, convivial booths, perch-perfect bar stools and a brown baize pool table at which to unleash your inner Eddie Felsen (pictured) sett the scene for spot-on fixes that look to old school (vieille école?) tipples for inspiration. Served by enthusiastic, attitude-free, all-female bar staff, classic French red wine-based apéritif Byrrh (plus Kamm and Sons and aquavit) informs Penfold Sour, while Belle Époque Parisian favourite Suze (gentian root, its bittersweet base), white rye and Lillet blanc makes for a top-notch tart Diamond Manhattan. Original Sin could easily be the downfall of this man. My only beef? Bleary-eyed on a night bus, it's a long schlep back to my K + C crib from the cold, windswept steppes of Siberia... aka Stoke Newington. Time to dig out the fur and ring Foxtons!
129 Stoke Newington High Street N16 0PH 

Monday, 5 January 2015

Bar Termini, Soho

Crossrail makes me cross. So much of what I hold dear, sacrificed in the goal of getting to Hanwell or Hayes and Harlington in under half an hour. (Building a moat around London to keep out the Middlesex Massive might have been money well spent). Rampaging through the West End, this most unnecessary transport Jabberwocky is chewing up and spitting out the very bars and clubs that make (or rather, once 'made') Soho so special. Lost, the inimitably louche Black Gardenia whose door policy memorably specified "No jeans! No c***s!" Sayonara seminal gay sweatbox, Ghetto! So long, Punk! Adieu, The Astoria et al. And for what? Shiny shrines to Mammon as championed by London's myopic mayors. The newt-loving numpty and the Eton mess that ousted him have traded the capital's cultural capital for offensively bland malls where brandroids can shop for the same old shit available elsewhere. Sold to the highest bidder, Soho is being serially raped by spivs, grasping property barons who will presently be pimping more 'prime retail opportunities' as Denmark Street, aka Tin Pan Alley, the cradle of British pop music, is also razed in the name of 'progress'. Spiritually harking back to the same decade as that doomed, delightful thoroughfare's heyday, the 1950s, Bar Termini is a rare nugget amid the nauseating urban blight. Tony Conigliaro's understated new bar - his first since the similarly bijou 69 Colebrooke Row in Islington - is sheer joy for those nostalgic for the peroxide blonde, stiletto-heeled glamour of Soho circa The Krays, albeit with a classy, retro-modern edge Ronnie and Reggie would not recognise. Inspired by those chic buffet bars common to Italy's grand railway hubs ('termini'), this first class carriage, all slouchy high-backed banquette, looks the palle di cane - as I once translated 'the mutt's nuts' to a table of baffled Milanese business associates. At Tony's trad marble-topped counter, suave signori - handsome in pristine white tuxes - serve up a slice of La Dolce Vita from dawn until late. The menu is concise: (Illy) caffeine fixes and sugar rush pastries, Peroni, Prosecco, two wines, £1-a-pop panini, cheeses, tomato tartare and salumi. Any latter day Marcello and Anita will find elegantly presented drinks served with a Tony C trademark twist. His negronis include delicate rose petal, or perky pink peppercorn takes as well as a beefy Beefeater gin-based classic version. Aperol spritz (£8) is nuanced with rhubarb cordial and a soupçon of almond blossom informs a trad Bellini. Savour the experience while it lasts. For how long before Old Compton Street's soul is sold to the Devil incarnate: fast-buck property developer filth?
7 Old Compton Street W1D 5JE

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Peony, Chinatown

As a smoker, I vowed I'd give up when Marlboro Lites hit a fiver per pack. They soon did and I quit; although that was less down to price, all to Allen in fag-aversion therapy clinic. Any aversion to the TV fag of that ilk is easily addressed: zap Chatty Man with your remote! I do. Similarly, I've vowed to give up cocktails when the benchmark for a boulevardier hits £20. Based on prices at Peony, a brand new space at  dimly lit pseudo-1930s-Shanghai den of debauchery, Opium, my drinking days are nigh over. Optional 12.5% gratuity included, prices zap from £15+ to a ceiling-busting £20.25 for Dragon Bite (El Dorado 5 rum, Benedictine, Xilli liqueur, lime, papaya and coriander). Yes, I have been known to shell out as much at Artesian or other starry lounges now and then, but all cheap 'n' cheerful chinoiserie, Peony ain't exactly The Connaught. Furthermore, at haute hotels, exotic snackage is often included in the price and smiling doormen invariably greet you as a long-lost friend. Tonight, despite coming armed with a reservation, I'm left outside, shivering in a biting wet wind for a full ten minutes while an impassive, impassable greeter attempts, FBI security-stylee, to communicate my presence to a front-of-house that's presumably pre-occupied, tending to other guests (all two of them, it transpires, when I do make it upstairs). The new inscrutable sepia tone saloon (its view, the sort of alley behind whose rubbish bins a vengeful triad member would carve a Shanghai smile into your boat race) is the domain of Rasa Gaidelyte, an enthusiastic Lithuanian blonde whose concise East-meets-West list is a work in progress. Served in patterned teapots, punches include a Chivas 12 whisky and green tea hot toddy - good with dim sum, seafood or vegetable platters from £15. Rasa's signature rinses include Mexican in China (Herradura tequila, Xilli pepper and maraschino liqueurs, grapefruit juice and lime) and a lemongrass-smoked Sazerac presented with goji berries and, wrapped in an exotic leaf, a gold coin for good luck. At this rate, a great deal of good fortune - i.e six numbers on tomorrow's Lotto - is required if this cookie is continue to afford to drink at London's more expensive lounges.
15 -16 Gerrard Street W1D 6JE

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Ivy Market Grill, Covent Garden

The trouble with reviewing London's latest bars, is that they roll of the production line faster than Ford Mustangs did in Detroit's heyday. This inevitably means I spend evenings in places I'd often rather not, speculating what drug the PR was on when penning a press release that bears no relation to reality. Flash-in-the-pan turds such as Senkai Lounge, W1; Blitz, now Barafina in Adelaide Street, and SofaKingCool which, now mercifully departed, nevertheless remains this blog's most visited regularly by masochists in need of a vicarious thrill, I imagine...spring to mind. Post-launch, that I have three times revisited Ivy Market Grill in as many weeks, speaks volumes. Like the original Ivy, here's somewhere that had me from hello. The all-purpose breakfast-to-one-for-the-road retro-fied room is a pitch-perfect pastiche of the sort of vielle école bar-brasserie you'd be lucky to say "Allo, Allo" to on a stop-over in an obscure backwater - Bar-le-Duc, Bourg-en-Bresse or the intriguingly-named Nancy, its boys more gay than Paris itself, par exemple. Unlike France's zincs - too often the domain of Surly, Snappy, Sneery and other similarly disagreeable Sarkozy-esque dwarves - service and presentation here are as polished as the butch bar's elegantly set zinc counter, at whose teal leather stools, afternoon tea at £8.75 (includes pots and pots of finest Ceylon), is a bonny cream scone steal. At around the same cost, house cocktails such as My Fair Lady - Ivy gin, Belle de Brillet, lemon and orange blossom (pictured) - and tin cup-serve Henrietta Maria Treacle are top notch, while classics such as a No 3 gin martini are executed with élan. All-day eats are of the type, post-Euromillions jackpot, my personal Mrs Patmore will rustle up on command: shepherd's pie; crispy duck salad (£7.75); steak, egg and chips; creamed mushrooms on toast; lobster thermidor; tuna carpaccio et al. IMG is VG indeed. If, in 2015, I'm not perma-present within, it's because I'm enduring some shonky Shoxditch scenester saloon in the name of research, dreaming of a civilised supper and cocktails in Covent Garden.
1 Henrietta Street, WC2E 8PS 3301 0200

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Ognisko, Kensington

This timewarp-y joy is located around the corner from a Kensington dungeon I regularly frequent. Next time I'm about to submit to untold torture there, I intend to, first, hit the bar at Ognisko and steel myself with a brace of its stiffeners. Two brain-blaster drinks down the hatch; even the worst punishment a psycho sadist can mete out - root canal at the hands of my dear dentist, Brian, directly across the leafy garden square from Jan Woriniecki's Polish restaurant - should be a doddle. A year after it became possible for Joe Public to access the grand stuccoed townhouse members of The Polish Hearth Club have monopolised since the 1940s, I'm finally here. Poland's cuisine - with apologies to any of that land's 39 million populations or whichever one of its 37 million ex-pat plumbers may, in future, tend to my U-bend - ain't top of my list. But its best vodkas very much are. Monumental martinis enlist some of the country's finest rye and potato distillations: Chopin; Sobieski; Belvedere; Potocki et al. Served in chilled coupettes, they are text-book perfect. And lethal as a KGB agent's bullet. On which note, the formal room, charmingly old school in a sort of frumpy 1950s Poznan matron way, is the sort of place wherein Cold War gay spy Guy Burgess might have convened with that equally traitorous c***, Anthony Blunt, after being taken up the bandstand by an obliging off-duty guardsman, in exchange for a fiver, in nearby Kensington Gardens, I imagine. For double that amount or less per drink here,  you can get buggered senseless on Ruski Standard Vesper, beetroot martini, Potocki gimlet and Tough Love (rye, Davna red vodka, vin d'orange and Martini Rosso) and a range of classics that includes side car and Copenhagen, snips at £8.50. My Christine Keeler-esque arm candy for the evening is particularly taken with her prosecco-topped martini - blood orange liqueur, lime, grapefruit and Wyborowa - from a list of ladylike libations. Bar snacks, elegantly served and blissfully ignorant of the term 'portion control', are the sort of Herculean fuel that could sustain you through the worst winter Warsaw can throw at you. Blinis; pelmeni; pierogi; grilled sausage; peasant soups; potato pancakes and puddings that read like the Polish entry to next year's Eurovision Song Contest. Sliwka w Czekoladzie, anyone? Me? I'm laying into homemade flavoured shots. So strong is Ognisko's horseradish vodka, gimme three shots of this liquid novocain and Brian can skip the injections and yank out my molars with his bare mitts, for all I'll care.
55 Prince's Gate SW7 2PN 7589 0101 

I spy Guy (right)