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Thursday, 30 September 2010

Drink, Shop & Do, King's Cross

If a major style mag editor rubbers London Fashion Week’s A-list bashes for an eccentric party in N1, as happens the night I rock up at Drink, Shop & Do for its official launch party, its owners must be getting something right. And, trust me, childhood chums Coralie and Kristie have got their concept very right. Take one split-level Victorian bathhouse/ former bordello of considerable architectural charm, paint it gallery white, whack in skip loads of ‘You’ve never had it so good’-era furniture, ‘more tea, vicar?’ crockery, car boot booty and quirky crafts by local artists - everything you see is for sale - and you have the basis of this cheeky new tearoom-cum-cocktail lounge. Factor in Amaretto Sour at £7.50, Pinot G at fifteen, a late license, cool tunes and an ‘I want them as my new friends’ crowd, stylish but distinctly un-poseur-ish, and you’d be mad not to Drink and Shop here. As for the ‘Do’, that’ll be a mental minestrone of paper plane making and flying lessons, mini robot wars, ‘filthy’ conversational French classes and chocolate truffle rolling to a rocking Fifties soundtrack, arranged nightly. My only issue is ‘How the hell do I get a Biba peacock chair, a £200 G-Plan dining suite and an embroider-by-numbers nude of a buxom young Karen Black back from King’s Cross, sherried-up at 2 am?' 
9 Caledonian Rd N1

Coalition, Fulham (CLOSED)

I offer to cat-sit for a hospitalised friend, only to discover I’m allergic to feline fur. Eyes smarting, I abandon the moggies. Shoving a shed load of Sheba at them by way of hush money, I set off to prowl Fulham by night, hoping to find some liquid relief. Presently, I stumble across a new cocktail opportunity where once stood Leopard Lounge before lack of custom rendered that particular beast extinct. At Coalition, not a single kat in sight. As Milliband Jnr. might say, ‘This Coalition clearly isn’t working and there's a whiff of desperation about it.’ On a Saturday at 10pm, it’s just me, a saturnine chap I take to be the bar's owner, a Zimbabwean waitress and, on an overhead screen, chipmunk chops, Allan Carr, hosting Celebrity Ding Dong...because a martini works better with a bit of twisted fruit on the side? Relieved to see me/ anyone, Zimbabwe offers a ‘local’s discount’ on a Dark and Stormy, reducing her OK effort to Primark price levels; from memory, £4.78. But as discounted hooch isn’t exactly pulling ‘em in, I suggest they ditch a red and black interior that looks like somewhere I’d have been thrilled to find on a troll around Truro, Trowbridge or some other tragic cocktail-free desert, circa shoulder pads and Dynasty. The ’80s may be back... but Sheena Easton’s sitting room? ‘Last night, we tripled our takings,’ claims Zimbabwe. That’s  £14.34, then? ‘Come back and try our Thai food or pop in for free salsa lessons any Wednesday’ she adds, more out of politeness than in hope. I rejoin the cats. Fickle creatures haven’t even registered I’ve abandoned them for all of twenty minutes.

660 Fulham Rd SW6 7731 2009

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Viajante, Bethnal Green

My minder, Warren, offers an impromptu reccie of old Bethnal Green Town Hall. Ushered along echoey, penumbral corridors, via the empty ballroom where I swear I hear a phantom orchestra begin the beguine, I’m keen to inspect one of the bedrooms, a dimly lit suite at the posh new hotel that now inhabits this grandiose Edwardian pile. Quasi-deserted monoliths at midnight spook me so I have one eye on the groovy bedroom with its iconic retro furnishings, the other on its door, convinced an axe will suddenly shatter it to a cry of ‘Here’s Johnny!’ What I do take a Shining to are Warren’s other-worldly mixes. His normal domain, you see, is behind the handsome bar at Viajante, this summer’s hot foodie ticket. Presently, its agreeable Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes joins us for a nightcap. Viajante’s stand-alone cocktail lounge, across the corridor from his knockout restaurant, is a destination in its own right, a tobacco tone den as edible as Mendes’s bar snacks, themselves. Hooverable halibut spicy tacos and a Stilton cheeseburger and vanilla caramelised onions in brioche is a last supper death row inmates would kill for. À propos of lethal injections, I’d willingly mainline Viajante’s Sazerac, at £7.50, half the price of similar fit-for-purpose poison in poncier Mayfair piles. Airmail; Martinez; Hanky Panky: no matter the call, what arrives, in quirky vintage stemware, is irreproachable. ‘Come back soon,’ urges Nuno. Amigo, I’d move in, if you'd only promise to exorcise room 237!
8 Patriot Square E2 7871 0461

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Longitude 0.8: Mayfair

'Evolution' translates into English as crap decor)

I love a good hotel bar but tend to keep ‘em secret lest they be invaded by punters. So I’ll gloss over the subterranean speakeasy at Flemings Mayfair - with its melodramatic Douglas Sirk-y ‘50s-moderne jade and cerise interior and similarly camp staff who entertain us over knockout martinis and pink fizz fit for bubblehead blondes - and introduce you, instead, to Longitude 0º 8’. That daft mouthful pinpoints this new lounge’s precise geographic coordinates, lest any cabbie be unable find Le Méridien Piccadilly. There are positives: jolly staff gain brownie points, as do amuses and fruity alco-punch both served gratis during an elastic apperitivo ‘hour’ (from 5pm - 8pm). But I’m too egalitarian to dig three different sets of stemware and matching coasters that trumpet your cocktail’s ‘class’ as ‘economy, business or first’, according to base spirit selected. ’A Ryanair mojito, bartender!’ conjures up images of shelling out extra for ice and another quid to go for a slash. Then there’s the interior: ground whoever designed it! A shaggable Tanqueray 10 Gibson- at £16.50, no cheap date - deserves a seductive mise-en-scène, not a jarring greige and raspberry red riot that mixes Barratt show home ’blah!’, spirograph patterns, Space Age white plastic chairs, 60’s Scandinaviana that Ikea might fancy and an Illy espresso machine as art. Drinks 10; Staff 10; Decor 0.8, then?
Of course, if you're smart enough to follow the link below, you'll end up at Flemings. And 'thank f*** for that' you'll say.
Le Méridien Piccadilly, 21 Piccadilly W1 7734 8000

Flemings: camp enough for you, darlings?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Wenlock and Essex, Islington

The name, The Wenlock and Essex , refers to this new bar/ diner’s location on Essex Road by Regent Canal’s Wenlock basin, lest you imagine it’s geared to white stiletto wearers and iffy one-eyed Olympic mascots. New, from the crew behind Hoxton’s Electricity Showrooms, its clientele is a pick’n’mix bag of early-Lily Allen clones, lardy geez-ahs who shouldn’t be wearing cut-off cargos and ‘wasn’t-he-once-in-The Kooks?’ indie runts. Formerly The Living Room, the Manchester-based smart/casual chain that never quite ‘got’ Islington, its interior mixes Edwardian fairground with JD Wetherspoon  circa 1990, had it only decided to go slightly upmarket. Top of the frothy tops are Camden Pale Ale and West Country hoppy bunny, Wild Hare, and there’s pocket-friendly vino and Margarita, Mai Tai and Manhattan at £7. To our left, two of the girthy geezahs, who we nickname Pork Scratching seem to have developed a bad case of jock itch. Their constant groin rubbing is putting me off ordering food which, as it transpires, would have been no great loss. From a reasonably priced brunch-to-late menu, my lamb meatballs’ stupidly, incendiary tomato and chili sauce nearly blows my bonce off while mate’s venison pie is not exactly game on. Blah-di-bland. Anyway, what we’re really here for, is Satan’s Circus. Through swing doors beyond the bar, lies a tacky pastiche of a 1980s nightclub. All mirrored ceiling and flashing neons depicting a Linda Lovelace tribute liberating her silicone 40 DDs, it’s six shiny poles short of Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls. Sexploitation movie sets and a Dirk Diggler light-up dance floor? In Islington? Guardian-reading feminists will choke on their organic polenta.     
18- 26 Essex Road N1 7704 0871 

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Neo, Smithfield

I desperately want to enthuse about Neo, if only because of the Barbican bar’s solitaire diamond waitress. But how can I love lacklustre? Clocking a velvet draped stairwell that suggests ‘casino’ or ‘lap-dancing within’, my heart sinks. Then, there’s the windowless claustrophobia of Neo’s basement location: all moodily lit pink granite, gauche chocolate panne velvet chairs and a stygian black mirrored bar, some effort has been made here, but ‘meh!’ I imagine the designer’s pitch. ‘Think texture! Think slick metrosexy luxe! Think retro, yet contemporary!’ What I’m thinking is ‘mausoleum in Hendon Cemetery’, a suburban club owner’s final rave set to a chapel of rest’s best house muzak CD. So, Neo’s cocktail list comes as a pleasant surprise - sea breeze and sex on the beach ousted by classy classics, aviation, picador and martinez, the forerunner of the modern martini. Alas, at £8.50, an astringent brandy crusta falls far short of the charm of the original 1850s New Orleans lemon-topped fancy. We order 2-4-1 pizzas, my quattro stagioni less Vivaldi, more Viv at Aldi, they’re as bland as our fellow punters, a gaggle of giggly Sex and the City (lite, lite, lite) office girls . Since it opened in May, there’s been not a single peep from my ‘have you been to…?’ cocktail coterie. ‘Is it any wonder?’ snaps my mate, branding it a ‘Neo-death experience.’ 
14 - 17 Carthusian Street EC1 7726 8925