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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Purl, Marylebone

Lacking kerb appeal, basement bars are tricky propositions. Launching one when everyone is outdoors, hoping to cut down on the Fake Bake bills, could prove suicidal. But that’s the risk three mixologist moles in a Marylebone hole are taking with Purl - a reference to a Hogarthian tipple of boiled beer and gin, and nowt do to with knitting, since you ask. Formerly a Davy’s wine bar, Purl’s warren of vaults has been funkified with various Edwardiana and wacky contraptions that would baffle that bow-tied bore on Bargain Hunt. The vibe is pure Phileas Fogg and, ere long, my personal Passepartout’s eyes fog over, his faculties anaesthetised by three magnificent martinis. Housed in an ironic Around The World in 80 Days-style antiqued globe, a selection of homemade essences, bitters and syrups inform recherché quaffs such as Backwards Bellini - lavender bitters, prosecco and a pomegranite (sic) foam which, given mole # 1’s  Heston Blumenthal-ish mien, means the fruit is blow-torched into edbile rock candy, for all I know. I order Mr Hyde’s Fixer Upper -  a ‘devilish elixir’ of Zacapa 23 Guatemalan rum, orange bitters and a cola reduction served in a Victorian medicine bottle presented in a container that billows ‘smoke’. It’s pure theatre and the best doctored hooch Jekyll will find north of Hyde Park. Hopefully, the guys' gamble will pay off.  

 50 Blandford Street W1 7935 0835   

Paramount , Soho

Joy! Paramount, the swish complex atop Centre Point, is no longer members only. Book in advance though; bar tables are at a premium. Understandably so, with killer cocktails and to-die-for 360 degree views of Lilliputian London all twinkly-twilighty below. Tom Dixon’s sleek’n’sexy interior with its Cubist copper bar could be a set from a stylish 1960's American flick.  By the way my date is toying with the slender flute her Roseberry Fizz comes in, I'm reminded of Faye Dunaway stroking Steve McQueen’s bishop in The Thomas Crown Affair's steamy chess match sequence. At £11, my Three King Swizzle, a kumquat-y take on a mojito, isn’t cheap; but it’s better value and loads more entertaining than a DVD of the Pierce Brosnan/ Rene Russo rehash of the original. Around midnight, we flit upstairs to Paramount’s Jetsons-style sky lounge. Surreally, it’s just me, the date and one other chap who is entertaining stereo leggy blondes over pink Krug at £360. Hello! I recognise that lantern jaw-line. Didn’t my Mum always listen to him in the ‘70s when she was taking it easy like Sunday morning? Our barman reckons the blondes - young enough to be his adopted daughter? - are sisters and er, ‘dancers’ from Helsinki. Dunno about the star, but a taxi home brings my night to a happy Finnish.
Centre Point 101 New Oxford St WC1 7420 2900

Monday, 21 June 2010

Salon d'Ete, Marylebone (CLOSED)

Doors swing open to reveal a steamy Rousseau-esque jungle crossed with racy 1930’s Montparnasse boîte, as photographed by Brassaï. As voluptuous burlesque booty-shaker, Vicky Butterfly, seduces the assembly with her nubile tease, Pre-Raphaelite nymphs flit between tables of bobbed flappers in beaded silks and dashing Louis Jourdan tributes who look like they might launch into ‘The Night They Invented Champagne’ at any moment which, given the amount of Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque being sunk, could be ce soir. Not anticipating an uproarious speakeasy, my attire is more suited to shoving a trolley around Sainsbury’s; perhaps summer pop-up, Salon d’Été could provide a dressing-up trunk for sartorially ill-prepared interlopers? Mine host, Luke Levene, an urbane French dandy, wants news of his delicious bal musette to be a secret shared among like-minded, retro-dressing, cabaret fans - not that I’d spill the beans to several million Metro readers, obviously. A witty stage set in a bespoke atrium atop born-again nightclub, l’Équipe Anglaise - which revelers can also access - it’s a hot spot in every sense. With Eurasian nibbles, whisky sour and apple mojito to be had for £11, and willing fox-trot and tango partners yet to invite, I’m perfecting my best Maurice Chevalier pose in anticipation of next weekend.    

at L'Equipe Anglaise 21 Duke St W1


Has the recession turned Londoners into miserable stay-at-homes? Far from it. The city’s better bars are as upbeat as ever, & ‘the blues’ is making a comeback, judging by the rash of music lounges that have sprung up around town recently. Even non-aficionados will be familiar with names-to-drop such as the world-famous Ronnie Scott’s or Blues at the 100 Club, but strike out from Soho for some equally sexy saloons. Whether your tastes run to Big Mama Thornton; Sonny Boy Williamson or Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday, this musical pick is aimed at those who want to go Wang Dang Doodle – as the late Koko Taylor sang it.
The Juke Joint at Charlotte Street Blues W1
Check out the resident blues band downstairs at this all-new, 30s-style juke joint where Charlotte Street morphs into Beale Street. Upstairs, the main stage hosts huckleberry friends of the calibre of Matt Schofield and early genre adopters, the Yardbirds, as well as high-profile foreign visitors including Grammy nominee John Lee Hooker Jnr. Choose from over 80 bourbons, sip Mint Julep in trad tin cups or blow out on buckets of beer from £12.50. For grub, get stuck into a Reubens sandwich, ‘black sheep’ burger or blackened Cajun chicken with sweet potato fries. If you aim to join the jitterbug jive on a packed dance floor, avoid the Mississippi mud pie.
Round Midnight  N1
Low-key, laid-back and deadly serious about the quality of its live gigs, this appealing indie bar features blues, jazz and soul as good-time gumbo along with a range of ice-cold brews, vino at recession-friendly prices, southern-belle cocktails, burgers, ribs and the like, served until the joint gets jammed around 8-ish. Rollo Markee, Bridie King and the Reasons, the Sax Pastels:  the names may not may not be as instantly recognisable as, say, Howlin’ Wolf, but the same spirit flows through their veins. One day you’ll boast how you saw them performing at a small Islington neighbourhood joint before they made the big time.
The Blues Kitchen NW1
Bourbon Smash, Tennessee Iced Tea and Mint Julep are all present and correct at this groovy Camden lunch-to-late homage to Dixie. Pick of the nights are Monday’s ‘Here come the girls’, showcasing the best Delta lady vocalists and the ‘Sunday jam’ (6-midnight), when dozens of musicians rock up with their instruments ready to strum and blow. Register to join the Blues Kitchen band on stage for a ’Sing for your supper’ contest: the winner claims the right to be fed like a king from a soul food menu that includes Louisiana staples ‘po boy’ submarine sandwich, surf & turf, jambalaya and pecan pie.. 

Ain’t Nothing' But…W1

This beat-up atmospheric interpretation of a New Orleans juke joint has a solid fan-base which, given its dimensions, means you’ll likely queue and once inside, be getting up close and personal with complete strangers. No matter;  the vibe is buzzy and; friendly as each night of the week the room reverberates to a roster of house bands covering anything from Chicago blues, West Coast swing, Hendrix-style guitars and voodoo vocalists that sound like they’ve been gargling with Jim Beam and razor blades . Obviously, you’ll order rye or Bourbon with beer backs: a G andT is for limey wimps whose definition of the Blues goes no further than Duncan James, Anthony Costa et co. Food-wise, expect jambalaya, crawfish pie, fillet gumbo -as the song goes - that’s to say Southern cooking to suit any a-Cajun.

The 606 Club SW10

 Dubbed ‘London’s best music venue’ by pint-sized pianist, Jamie Cullum, no less, this casual jazz-orientated joint promises smoochy sax and horny brass sections, with up to ten live bands and combos featured each week. Don’t be surprised to see off-duty stars drop in for an impromptu jam. Booking at weekends is invariably essential; this warm, buzzy, intimate Chelsea cellar is a squeeze, albeit a  comfortable (air-conditioned) one. Membership makes sense at £95 pa but the room is also accessible to non-members who are not permitted to order from the bar unless dining.  Allow £50 a head for three courses with entry-level wine from a list of two dozen that includes French interest at £30.Organic beer and imported lagers are also served. A la carte  dishes might typically include chorizo with feta, fresh anchovy crostini, roast rump of lamb & all the trimmings, salmon terriyaki, vegetarian linguine, lemon tart and crème brulée. A Sunday lunch sitting is set to the stirring sounds of deep soul and gospel voices.
The Vortex Jazz Club  N16 

Downstairs’ (a cocktail lounge-cum-casual restaurant below) have attracted the likes of Dame Cleo Laine and  British pianist/composer Django Bates to deeply hip Dalston. Connections with the jazz scenes in New York and elsewhere ensure that a healthy mix of visiting artistes appears alongside impressive local heroes on nightly display. Daytime eats and a range of bargain cocktails are served downstairs, along with wines (from £12) and beers. The main venue – modernist, minimalist and thankfully air-conditioned – overlooks a square where alfresco performances are occasionally scheduled. 

Getting the blues in Streatham is no longer necessarily implies traffic jams on the A23; the arrival of live music venue Hideaway ensures that blues, jazz, funk, soul and Latin fans can get their regular fix down south. The revamped venue,  tastefully converted former snooker halls got up in post-industrial chic, affords good views of a stage served by a top-notch sound system. At the bar, Kronenbourg and Heineken head the drafts and there’s cocktails and easy drinker wines for a smart casual crowd. To eat, choose from an anglo-European menu that might offer savoury tartlets with salad, pumpkin and pecorino risotto, rib eye béarnaise with chips, calves liver, bacon, bubble and squeak, and brownies, ices  or crumbles, all at pub prices. Hideaway’s uptown offer ensures that Streatham is no longer the butt of jokes about grim suburbia.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Barrio Central, Soho

When I fleetingly shared a hot-headed Hispanic couple’s Manhattan apartment, I soon discovered why their decor was minimalist; for them, Saturday Night Fever meant an accusatory bust-up over some imagined peccadillo, Puerto Rican histrionics demanding furniture, ornaments and anything else to hand be totally trashed, Tom & Jerry-style. Repeat such carnage at Barrio Central, an homage to the Americas’ inner city ‘hoods,  and the bill for damages would be light; the new Soho bar’s kitschy retro-junk furnishings look to have been salvaged from a San Juan skip. But if the look is Tijuana trailer trash, the carnival atmosphere and killer cócteles make this Chicano hermano to Islington’s Barrio North as tasty as a Celia Cruz compilation. Sure-footed recipes collated on a Motorcycle Diaries-style roadtrip across the continent merengue in the mouth; Brazilian Lady, Gran Turismo and Flor de Rita impress and our unflappable waitress, Kim, is a star, coaxing chef - after the kitchen has shut - to rustle up a mountain of salsa-fied beef nachos big enough to feed half of Honduras. With Latin DJs and live bands limbo-rocking a tiki club bar downstairs, Barrio is the dog’s maracas. My warring ex-roomies would fancy the tequila and fizz-based No Brainer, served in a porcelain Mexican wrestling mask, it’s a knock-out punch.  
6 Poland Street W1 3230 1002

Look Mum No Hands! Clerkenwell

Look Mum, No Hands!’ is the boast of tykes on trikes everywhere. It’s also the handle for a new bar-cum-cafe aimed at cyclists. Decked out like a student union circa the time Belgian legend, Eddy Merckx, was dominating the Tour de France - clue, The Pushbike Song by pop footnotes, The Mixtures, was riding high in the charts -  the community-based project allows you to get a fix of caffeine, or something stronger, while in-house spanner monkeys fix your derailleurs. Sipping chardonnay in a cute courtyard, away from a main room currently in thrall to live coverage of a peloton of meaty Lycra-clad thighs pedaling furiously through the streets of Roubaix, Tourcoing or some similarly pedestrian vile French ville, I recount the incident that ended any chance of me ever wearing a yellow jersey that wasn’t designed by Paul Smith in finest four ply cashmere. Alcohol and bikes just don’t mix. After a couple of shandies, playing cat and mouse with white van man, I landed ar**-up on the asphalt. Trust me, there is no greater disincentive to cycling London’s lethal streets than having metal removed from an eyeball popped out of its socket and placed on your cheek, while you remain fully conscious in A&E. So if you arrive here on two wheels, stick to fruit smoothies!   
49 Old Street EC1 7253 1025