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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Primo, Waterloo

Stuck in traffic jams on the roads that encircled it, I often pondered how such an ugly concrete carbuncle could ever have been allowed to be built on the roundabout at the southern end of Westminster Bridge. Then, a couple of years ago, this Soviet-style monstrosity was razed overnight... only to replaced by something equally ghastly that resembles one of those pop-up pissoirs Westminster Council installed in a vain attempt to prevent drunks from peeing in Pret's doorways, or having a slash outside Starbucks - the chain whose warm brown liquid tastes like pish to me. Caught short, I pop into said pissoir-like erection (aka the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London) Well, why else would I be visiting a mid-market hotel chain? Themed shiny-sleek oriental-intercontinentale, it could be a new airport terminal in Seoul or Guangzhou. Guests are encouraged to marvel at the view of Big Ben - note to tourists: the view as you exit Westminster Underground station is the photo op you want. But it's the hotel's Tokyopolitan-style bar, Primo, that will impress blasé Londoners. Who knew this even existed? Split into two distinct lounges, the larger  - all low-lit, low-slung, blocky black and white 60’s moderne  -  is where to score wine from £19, house champagne (£47), Eurasian bites  (frittata, meatballs, chicken satay) and patisseries. In the dramatic black and red live music lounge, a small stage host jazz, swing and samba musicians and Sinatra wannabes most nights.  Asian-slanted cocktails match the space for drama. Try Cavallo or Nashi Eyes (rum, nashi pear, peach liqeur, guava juice and oolong tea). Primo would not be primo on my list of  hotel bars in which to get bladdered, but  for weak bladders in an emergency, here's a fine place to spend a penny or two.
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London, 200 Westminster Bridge Road SE1 7620 7282

Friday, 23 December 2011

Drink Shop and Dance, King's Cross

Drink Shop and Dance? Sounds like a plan for the next fortnight! Get into the Christmas spirit - in this case, Mother’s Ruin - at this new dive from the eminently doable Drink Shop and Do. The juvenile delinquents behind this King’s Cross charmer, accessed via the sweetest sweetie shop East of Willie Wonka, have a 'dirty little secret', a dinky playpen for similarly insane insomniacs.  From its launch in 2010, I took to childhood friends Coralie and Kristie’s original kooky alt social club/ tea rooms (located in a former Victorian bordello directly above this latest venture) from the off. I've even managed to show my face within on several occasions since. Given the number of nightspots I have to reccie for those I manage to pimp myself out to, this fact speaks volumes.  Now that there’s gin and joined-up disco dancing to a mashy mental soundtrack until late down below, here’s to many more funny, slurry-blurry N1 nights to come. Set in a simple grey bunker - although, given the girls’ magpie tendencies, I expect that to soon change - the DJ bar's presence is announced by a large garish neon sign which, I hazily recall, says 'Sex Dwarf For Hire' or something equally louche and intriguing. What The Butler Saw-style peep-holes drilled into  walls hint at the space’s past as a seedy shop aimed at dirty mac owners. Note to younger readers: that doesn't mean someone who needs to wipe off smears on their iBook's screen, although, that said................. 
As for 'Drink': they'll fluff you with Fifty Pounds martinis, drip feed you Zuidam Genever gimlets through a gimp mask, tease you with a Tanqueray Hanky Panky and handcuff you to 209 or Death’s Door, two Yankee swingers worth knowing. If it's something even more recherché you crave, wrap your laughing gear around the barman's Crown Jewels. No longer widely available since Beefeater discontinued it; at £13 a pop, this super super-premium gin always guarantees a happy finish. 

9 Caledonian Road, N1 9DX 3343 9138

image : the

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Met Bar, Mayfair

At the time of this bar's original launch, New Labour's PRs were spinning Things Can Only Get Better. When Cherie was photographed looking dog rough at her front door on that momentous May morn, she looked pretty much like those prone to partying all night at the Met, the Mayfair hotel's private bar that quickly became one of the default late night hang-outs for the Cosmo-swilling fashion and muso cheerleaders of Saint Tony's Cool Nu-Britannia. Once, harder to crash than a Windsor's 21st birthday bash - is  'comedy terrorist' Aaron Baarshack, still locked up in The Tower, does anyone know? - The Met's brief reign was long over by the time Lehman Bros and the ensuing crash finally buried phoney Tony's successor's 'no more boom and bust' hubris in an avalanche of quantitative easing. Nineties party fixtures Meg Mathews, Fran Cutler and Ms Moss had taken their hubble bubble toil and trouble to steamier cauldrons, or in Kate's case, morphed into Gillian Taylforth and got married. Cue a rethink/ total refurb for the Met, which reopened this autumn. A sign of how 'over' it was, I'd twice walked past it before finally bothering to look in on the place. All black lava bar and bright banoffee and butterscotch swish, the old room is now open to non-members. 'Exclusive'? That's more The Box and The Rose, these days isn't it? Homage to its brief moment in the limelight, perhaps, Storm in a Tea Cup (Tanqueray, Aperol, orgéat, cacao and lime) is served to 32 B cups in a ...go on, guess!.... with a side of Turkish delight. Root Down (a Chase vodka mule) comes with beetroot purée;  so that's one of your 5-a-day sorted right there. There’s wine from £27 and Glaswegian lager, St. Mungo. Small plates include kedgeree cakes and ham hock terrine with beet and pickled walnut salad.  A daytime menu runs to posh fish and chips and Allen’s of Mayfair wild boar sausages and mustard mash. Glossy, polished and smart, somehow it feels like its soul was sold alongwith its old red interior, auctioned off for charity, on eBay. File under 'seemed like a good idea at the time' A bit like Meg's ex, Noel, and his Manc monobrow brother's band,  I suppose.
1 Park Lane W1 7447 1000 

The Half Moon, Putney

Aeons ago, I reluctantly schlepped down the District Line to witness an obscure new Country & Western act play a scruffy old Putney alehouse. In its small barn-like live music lounge, a high cheek-boned 1950s be-quiffed creature presently ambled out to total silence. Picked out by the beam of a solitary spotlight, in kick-ass cowboy boots, canary yellow yee-haw waistcoat and garish petrol blue dirndl skirt accessorised with plastic farm animals, was this Oklahoma's answer to Morrissey in drag, I wondered? Falling to the floor, laying flat on her back, and without any instrumental backing, the curious vision proceeded to out-Patsy Patsy Cline with a sublime pitch-perfect rendition of Willie Nelson's Crazy - the most-played song of all time on US jukeboxes, should the question ever come up in a pub quiz. From that hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-raising moment on, I have admired K D Lang and retained a soft spot for a boozer that, since launching in 1963, has hosted everyone from The Stones and The Who to Kate Bush, Elvis Costello and The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Its future was under threat, but thanks to new backers, Geronimo Inns, the venue should now even outlast the career of one set of previous Half Moon minstrels. Fronted by the smug Irish git in the tinted glasses, I'm talking about that unfathomably popular band that unites all people of good taste - as in 'Hurrah! U2 can't stand them?' Fast forward to 2011, the atmospheric live gig room's bijou stage hosts an eclectic mix of Joe strummers, nightly. But if you're a prog rock or psych folk avoider, the saloon bar functions as a separate space, so no need to ask for ear plugs with your pint of local microbrewer Sambrook’s finest. The fading boozer has been subjected to Geronimo's signature scalping. The group's Slightly overstuffed, quirky vision of trad pub nouveau - with a gallery of signed portraits of familiar faces that have played Putney - will chime with the area’s Cath Kidston classes for whom, back-to-basics comfort food: cured meats and pickles, eggs and bacon, fish and chips and apple pie and custard at high street prices. In terms of rock'n'roll attitude, the new Half Moon may be more Mick Hucknall now than Mick Jagger then, but at least the old place hasn't been converted into fancy flats.
93 Lower Richmond Road SW15 1EU 8780 9383 

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Lucky Pig, Fitzrovia

Last time I visited this Fitzrovia basement, a lesbian Northern Soul night was in full swing within. It seems that concept was just too niche; hence the premises’ reinvention as metrosexual cocktail bar. That said, Lucky Pig's owners should invite the old DJ back. A strap-on figure of a woman in the same mould as ballsy blues-y Big Mama Thornton (see ), she'd synch seamlessly with an attractive space got up as a Scott Joplin-era Louisiana juke joint. Moreover, her Wigan Casino vintage vinyl would be a vast improvement on the Pig’s jarring soundtrack, the only duff note tonight. Hed Kandi house doesn't work in such a sultry sepia tint space. This aside, we’re happy as pigs in clover: Clover Club, Aviation, Whiskey Daisy, Silk Stocking and Martinez. Period-correct cocktails served by Bonnie dames -  that’s as in hoodlum Clyde’s sidekick, not comely Clydesiders - are a cut above your average swill. From a reasonably-priced list, modernités such as Apples & Pears - a Grey Goose Poire coupe topped with more froth than a Mississippi showboat dancing girl's frilly petticoats - are also worth a butcher’s. Set behind scarlet velvet curtains, intimate cellar booths encourage a bit of the old ‘ooh la la’ -or opium taking, had killjoy westminster Council not banned it -  and there’s Mercier at £42 to keep you in the Pinky and Perky. I’d be telling a slight porky if I said this new trough was my absolute favourite opening of the year, but he who drinks here is a lucky pig indeed.
5 Clipstone St W1 7436 0035

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Fourth Wall, London (Somewhere in)

‘Tried the cocktails yet? Best in London!’ shouts a blonde sylph, dirty-dancing on a high bar stool to a full-on DJ soundtrack. I hope to, courtesy of a chiselled English bartender, Ralph-Lauren-model-material for sure. He’s studiously stirring a Miller’s martini when, ‘Thwack!’; egged on by a similarly wild and suspiciously bright-eyed Pete Doherty tribute in a naff pork pie hat, Blondie’s OTT gyrations send her crashing against the makeshift bar, and my much anticipated drink crashing to the floor. Model barman shrugs sanguinely and starts again, while I fantasise about having done to the bouncing bimbo what Jeremy Clarkson envisaged as a fate for striking public sector workers. This then, is midnight at The Fourth Wall - the name refers to the imaginary wall through which theatre audiences observe the action onstage. The pop-upl is an ad-hoc shebang where jinx are high and martinis - when we finally get ‘em - correctly dry. Tonight, the party is in a secret location down a dark, dank tunnel behind an unmarked door off Brick Lane. The room is a full-scale, flat-pack replica of its creator's Fitzrovia gaff Bourne and Hollingsworth, gussied up as somebody's Peckham parlour circa Neville Chamberlain. After a two-week residency in situ, the weekends-only wingding is folded away and driven off to a new clandestine location. To find out where this bar-in-a-box will materialise next, visit its website and follow instructions. Blondie’s claim for the cocktails -decent enough at seven quid - is slightly fanciful but she and fellow (Fourth) Wall pork pie Pete aside, this itinerant sweatbox cooks on full gas 

Friday, 2 December 2011

Archer Street, Soho

One visit is usually all I need to rate a new bar Snog, Marry or Avoid. Thanks to universally improving standards, in 2011, I’ve done more snogging than TOWIE’s Mark Wright. Marry? I’m polygamous, currently happily shacked up with ZTH, The Gilbert Scott and Happiness Forgets. Avoid? Well, a gentleman doesn’t spill. Oh, very well - The Piccadilly Institute was a bit of a munter. What to make of Archer Street, tired old gay hole Barcode’s replacement as envisaged by the owners of the O Bar on Wardour Street? Hmm. I’m like The Bachelor’s Gavin Henson - albeit less buff but, hopefully, more articulate - unsure of my feelings towards this pretty little thing...even after three dates. Of its two lounges, I prefer the members club-y, après-ski-y basement; all cosy cubby-holes and jewel bright velvet stools at a capably tended butch bar whose Liverpudlian mixmaster in residence was happy to build us bespoke drinks on my chosen theme - Laphroaig - one evening. From the bar's usual menu, top ‘tails, chilli and passion fruit martini and Bulleit in the Afternoon (Bourbon, pomegranate juice, Lapsang Souchong syrup and cucumber), are well snoggable, even at £10.50. The street-level lounge, where champagne (Billecart-Salmon’s range) starts at a giddy £14, is sophisticated in a neo-Georgian Guildford gated complex townhouse way. Although I’ve yet to witness such a spectacle, I hear theatrical staff occasionally go all Broadway tunes and jazz hands. Eureka! Archer Street feels like somewhere John Barrowman might appear - the shiny-smiley hoofer is a deffo double-avoid in my book. I'll ring ahead to check he's not in the house ahead of date number 4.
3-4 Archer Street W1 7734 3342