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Friday, 25 May 2012

Crown and Anchor, Brixton

Victory Storm King; Shaky Bridge; Fanny’s Bramble; Maui Big Swell: if you’re headed for William Hill, that’s not my 1-2-3-4 for The Derby. A sceptical Taurean, I some while since bet a tenner on Astrology at 25/1 for the big race. Beer and cider lovers will recognise those four brands as highly desirable, if hard-to-find, drinkables. On a particularly iffy stretch of Brixton Road, beyond jerk chicken shack, Paradise Cove - not this cove’s idea of paradise - and an outfit selling superfly pimp gear, I discover all four and lots more. At the no-frills, nicely-striped-back-to-its-bare-brick Crown and Anchor, a new sister pub to Stokie’s Jolly Butchers, there’s hoppy goodness - around twenty brews on tap - to swell happy beer-swillers’ bellies. Derbyshire brewer Thornbridge’s Sequoia, Kipling and Topaz; lots of local London interest; Scottish punks, BrewDog; and from a Belgian Trappist abbey, Rochefort 10 - a monk’s naughty habit at a whopping 11.3% abv? From a snappy menu of just-what-you-fancy scran that includes arancini, mussels in cider and rhubarb crumble, I order juicy 8 oz Brixton burger and double fried chips (£9.95). Hopefully, Astrology’s jockey will stick to salad.
246 Brixton Rd SW9 6AQ 

Saturday, 19 May 2012

London Pub History: Musical Heroes


‘Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the Streets Of London.’ So sang Ralph McTell in his 1969 song about the city’s losers and loners. Keith Barker-Main takes Square Meal readers on a more upbeat trip down memory lane to watering holes that played a part in shaping London’s rich rock’n’roll heritage.  

The City Barge: perfect for Paperback Writers

27 Strand on the Green W4 3PH 8994 2148
Having tangled with sinister Scottish bagpipers, The Beatles take refuge in a riverside pub. Ringo mistakes a lever disguised as a beer glass for his pint. Pulling it, he inadvertently opens a trapdoor under him and plunges into a cellar that houses a man-eating Bengal tiger. Yes, it’s a scene from wacky 1965 film Help! While half of the Fab Four are sadly no longer with us, that same pub (minus the tiger) is. Located on the Thames towpath by Kew Bridge, here's a super spot for supping Cask Marque accredited ales while penning your next novel. Let’s face it; the plot couldn’t be more preposterous than that of Help! - whose soundtrack - Ticket to Ride, I Need You, Yesterday et al - is, however, utterly sublime.

The Clissold Arms:  for Dedicated Followers of Fashion

105 Fortiss Green Road, N2 9HR NW2 020 8444 4424
Liverpool gave the world The Beatles, London - or Muswell Hill to be precise - those kinky lyricists, the brothers Davies, Ray and Dave. Signed to Pye Records the lads ditched their band’s previous name, The Ravens, for a groovier handle, The Kinks. Following 1964’ chart-topper You Really Got Me, came global hits such as Waterloo Sunset, Lola and Dedicated Follower of Fashion, a hymn to Swinging London.  Having played their maiden gig here, the Muswell Hillbillies returned in 2010 to inaugurate a memorabilia-lined room named in their honour. Now a stylish gastropub, the Clissold’s smart terrace is perfect for eating alfresco on a Sunny Afternoon.

The Dublin Castle: where to wear Baggy Trousers

94 Parkway NW1 7AN 7485 1773
Camden is to rock what Chelsea once was to fashion. While King’s Road has long since lost its groove, the beat goes on in NW1. Catch four bands live each night at the Castle, the sort of homespun place blokes will tell their future grandchildren about: ‘I was there when (insert 2050’s global megastar’s name here) played their first ever London gig.’ Will recent turns The Worms, The Red Bullets or The Gypsy Switch enjoy the success of Blur, Supergrass, The Killers, 3 Colours Red, Travis and The Arctic Monkeys, all of whom played here?  It’s hard to imagine his health-conscious missus digging the DC’s grimy dishevelment, but Chris Martin’s Coldplay also graced its stage. As for Suggs of Camden nutty boys Madness, he’s virtually part of the furniture - hence those Baggy Trousers.

 The Hawley Arms:home of the Voice of the Beehive.

2 Castlehaven Road NW18QU 7428 5979
Voice of the Beehive was a group of late-80s Anglo-American girl rockers, but the beehive I have in mind was the ratty, raggedy nest belonging to the best soul-jazz voice of the Noughties. The much-missed singer of Valerie, Back To Black (22 million hits on YouTube and rising) and - oh, cruel irony - Rehab, could regularly be found in varying degrees of sobriety amongst friends at her second Camden home. Long a favourite with musos and comedians such as Noel Fielding, some locals now refer to it as Amy Shrinehouse. The Hawley survived a brush with death when a massive fire in 2008 destroyed its upper floors. Having burned brightly, Amy was less lucky. Raise a glass of Greene King IPA to her memory. 

 The Half Moon:  an Angel with a Lariat

93 Lower Richmond Road SW15 1EU 8780 9383 
Everyone from The Stones, The Who and Kate Bush to The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band had played this perennially popular Putney pub by the time a then unknown act appeared in the mid 80s. Picked out by a solitary spotlight, a be-quiffed androgynous creature in cowpoke gear accessorised with plastic farm animals might have been Morrissey in drag. Falling to the floor, flat on her back, and without instrumental backing, the curious vision launched into a spine-tingling version of Patsy Cline’ hit, Crazy - the most-played song of all time on US jukeboxes, should that question arise in a pub quiz. Thus, Ms K D Lang introduced herself to London. Now owned by Geronimo Inns, enjoy a pint of local ale Sambrook’s and get the Dr.Feelgood factor: the band is playing on 12th May in the live lounge, sensibly left intact during its recent makeover.

Miss Q’s: good for Ga Ga fans

180 - 184 Earls Court Road SW5 9QG 7370 5358
That’s fans of Ga Ga, as in Radio, not Lady - although Brian May’s flamboyant mustachioed late band-mate would surely admire the similarly outrageous Ms Germanotta. Miss Q’s, a basement pool bar/ live music lounge with a nice line in £8 ‘rocktails’ such as the Makers Mark-based Chuck Berry, was once Freddie Mercury’s local gay nightclub. At The Copacabana (yes, really!) he might expect to bump into the gayer half of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Erasure’s Andy Bell, a Pet Shop Boy, Jimmy Somerville, DJ Kenny Everett and, occasionally, another local, Lady Diana Spencer. She who would never be Queen, it’s said, often claimed ‘I Want To Break Free to hang out with the Boyz.’

Byron at The Intrepid Fox: sex’n’drugs’n’rock’n’roll? Nah! Burger’n’chips.

99 Wardour Street W1F 0UD 7297 9390
It’s alleged Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart almost came to blows here when the former invited Ronnie Wood (then in Rod’s squad, The Faces) to join The Stones. That was back when the Fox was a skanky, but fantastically atmospheric, dump of Whithnail & I proportions. Other patrons included Malcolm McLaren, his snarling punk protégés The Sex Pistols, and every indie rocker that ever wore black leather and guyliner. McLaren backed a campaign to save the Fox, but alas, to no avail. This is the only venue in our crawl where you are unlikely to hear live music played today. Fortunately for Siouxsie Sioux, Stooges and Marilyn Manson fans, there’s Intrepid Fox II at nearby 15 St Giles High Street WC2 Despite looking like extras from a Hallowe’en slasher film, the crowd won’t bite. Pop in for a Pernod and black after your burger and Sicilian red (£13.95) here and see for yourself.

Filthy McNasty’s: What Became of the Likely Lads?

68 Amwell Street EC1R 1UU 8617 3515 
What Became of the Likely Lads was the title of which 2004 single from that year’s next big thing? Score a point if you said The Libertines. The garage rock band's two main members, Carl and Pete, often gigged at this rakish scruff and the pub has also hosted Nick Cave, Johnny Depp and legendary caner Shane McGowan. Hard to believe that a decade ago, Doherty was being hailed as the saviour of British rock. Failing to live up to the hype, baby-face’s life became a shambles and The Libertines played their last gig here before they split. 'I think Pete's main problem is that he is fascinated by the dark side,' said the bar’s then manager. Well, that’s rock musicians for ya.

The Troubadour: old folk's home

263-267 Old Brompton Road SW5 9JA 7370 1434
The Troubadour (and indeed some of its Kerouac-manqué customers) belongs in another decade. How exotic its frothy coffee, stained glass, and louche boho decor (much unchanged since it opened) must have seemed in the grey years BE (before Elvis), when Vera Lynn and easy-listening trumpeter Eddie Calvert’s mournful Oh Mein Papa topped the UK charts. Since its launch, in 1954, as a folk venue aimed beatnik berets, its tiny cellar club has hosted some illustrious troubadours: from Hendrix, Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon via Elvis Costello to Morcheeba and Paolo Nutini. The cafe/ restaurant is good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails and wines from its fabulous off-licence. Even our future king has been spotted: Wills and brother Harry were in the house on a recent visit.

 Old Blue Last: It’s a future LDN thing

38 Great Eastern St EC2A 3ES 7739 7033
Music journalists love the peeling Dickensian grunge of this Shoreditch gaff - dubbed ‘the world’s coolest pub’ by NME and by The Guardian as ‘the cradle of British music’s future.’  Squeezed ten deep at the bar, some of its punters look not long out of the cradle themselves. The wonky fringes and skinny jeans are here to hear what others will be listening to tomorrow - as programmed by the guys at , a must for musos. As evidence, I offer you Hot Chip, Florence & The Machine, Mumford & Sons, Santogold, Jack Penate, Kate Nash, The Klaxons and The Noisettes, all of whom have blown an amp or two here in the past. In 1962 at The Cavern, you could catch The Beatles... or Cilla Black. Fast-forward five decades: at The Last, you might catch the new Fab Four. That, or Cilla’s 21st Century equivalent: Lily Allen. She of 2006 hit LDN, also played here. 'Any chance of a refund on my ticket, guv?'

Friday, 18 May 2012

Karpo, King's Cross - September 2013 now Megaro (see new review)

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder’ said the guy with the lisp. Well, if you’re fond of the aniseed-flavoured spirit, hit Karpo at King’s Cross. The Megaro Hotel’s stylish, moodily -lit new dive bar is a persuasive ambassador for a range of absinthe served, as romantic tradition demands, with chilled water dispensed from exquisite Belle Époque glass fountains. The Marmite of the drinks cabinet, I used to hate the stuff; put-off by youthful misadventures in Glasgow where, poured over burnt sugar cubes on slatted spoons, bars once pushed it as ‘wreck the hoose juice.’ Cue frenzied trippy disco-dancing in total strangers’ Gorbals high-rise flats followed by immobilising paranoid half-blind hangovers. No wonder countless absinthe-raddled French Impressionist painters ended up as daft as their brushes. The trick is to ease yourself gradually in to this dangerous mistress’s seductive embrace. For a sexy first date, novices might risk Karpo’s subtly absinthe-d coupes - Fourth Degree (a Bermondsey’s Jensen Old Tom gin martini); Violent Femme (£7.50) or Corpse Reviver no.2  served with equally addictive spiced pecans. Still not tempted? There’s a range of non-Abs Fab alternatives and retro cocktail manuals for inspiration. But if you do yearn to see the green fairy, ‘Karpo diem!’ - says the guy with half an ear for Latin.   
23 Euston Road NW1 7843 

Friday, 11 May 2012

Pisco Bar at Ceviche, Soho

The most famous Peruvian I know is the divine Mario Testino who used to be my chum's lodger back in the days before he had an Anna Wintour-approved designer pot to piss in. To be honest, I'd much rather be on nodding terms with SuperMario's compatriots Paddington Bear and 1950’s cheesy listening queen Yma Sumac, but can they make me look a million dollars on my passport photo? I don't think so. Add to that subjective list of fabulous Incas, pisco, the South American nation's famous  pale grape brandy. Like Peruvian cooking, pisco is having a moment as London goes loco for all things Lima. Soho cantina, Ceviche (the foodie clue is in the name) boasts the capital’s first dedicated pisco bar. Purists prefer pisco neat or infused with physalis, eucalyptus leaf, chilli, apricot and lemongrass, ‘macerados’ at £3 a shot. Similarly authentic, is opalescent lime, bitters and egg white flip, pisco sour, a national obsession. Add to that, pisco punches, mules and Maria Sangrienta, llama-land’s fiery spin on the bloody Mary. Cusqueña is present and correct but no Peruvian wines make the cut, elbowed out by Chilean sauvignon blanc pinot noir by the glass,  a belting Brazilian cabernet franc at £36 and Argentine wine. But Thatcher's children are boycotting that these days   
17 Frith Street W1D 4RF 7292 2040

Ridley Road Market Bar, Dalston

Ridley Road is like an East End version of Portobello circa 1958, minus the race riots. Shorter than the now Cameroony West London thoroughfare, it is lined with stalls selling fish you've never heard of for peasant dishes they'll be eating in some poncey chef's gaff next season at £32 a pop sans veg. Talk to da man, and you can also score illegal bush meat if that's your foodie thing. Colourful, exotic, multi-cultural and urban,  it's the ideal backdrop for Ponysteppin' pale and interestings into whatever this year's equivalent of heroin chic is.  Spot them at this funky (both in the current Brit and  original Harlem sense) liquor shack, cadging fags and hoping someone flush with dole money, or the £50 they scored for doing an indie band's make-up for their latest music promo,  will stand them a tropical cocktail: tequila and grapefruit, ginger mojito or gin and pomegranite (sic).Otherwise, there's  Red Stripe, house vino  served in old stoppered bottles and killer coffee in the absence of a wrap of coke when Haggerston all-nighters beckon. The bar's gaudy, clapped-out interior looks like a set for a Tarantino flick and there’s an alfresco terrace-ette for showing off your pretend perfected-in-Pentonville rude boy stance. Grub-wise, Luca’s highly doable big beefy meatballs slathered in sauce might put some meat on scrawny frames but for most, as Ms Moss says, 'nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.' 
49 Ridley Road E8 2NP

Tapping The Admiral, Kentish Town

From the same team at The Pineapple, preserved after regulars including Rufus Sewell, Ken Stott and newsreader Jon Snow told developers where to stick their bulldozers, comes sister pub Tapping The Admiral. It's another good pub for the community-minded burghers of Kentish Town to savour. At first approach, you might suspect a local pub for local people in the same sinister sense as Tubbs and Edward’s gothic emporioum in The League of Gentlemen. Straying strangers are most welcome to try out the precious things within, CAMRA-accredited real ales. Choose from Butt’s, Redemption, Brodie’s and real perry such as Gwynt y Ddraig Two Trees (£3). As at The Pineapple, the food is Thai : try various tom yum from £3.50, noodle dishes from £6.50 and chicken, pork or beef or tofu phat kra phao stir fry and curries at £7.45. ‘Tapping the admiral’ is not a local euphemism in the same vein as 'bashing the bishop': they'll brook no wankers here. The phrase actually refers to old tars who would sneak a cheeky tot of brandy friom the barrel in which Nelson’s corpse was embalmed for the long sea voyage home after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar.  
77 Castle Road NW1 7267 6118

The Merchant of Bishopsgate, The City

This new ‘freehouse and kitchen’ imagines itself ‘so good, you’ll want to miss your train.’ Its TOWIE-understudy customers seemingly concur. Preferring cask ales and £15 Lamberti Blush to Liverpool Street’s rush hour cattle trucks, they gossip about hair gel and ‘Mee-chelle’ being ‘well jel.’  Do ‘Great Cocktails!’ match that boast? ‘Dunno. They’re off, ‘ announces a waitress. ’People didn’t like them...or something.’ I order Sancerre from the Enomatic dispenser instead - frisky and fresh at £7.60 a glass. Parroting various (better) rivals’ design vernacular, The Merchant’s clichéd patter feels less fresh: trite shouty slogans as art; tinny tinnitus-y house muzak; canned Spam in a display of ‘heritage’ packaged goods; and from Downton Junction’s lost luggage office, battered Edwardian suitcases sprayed white hint at the old boat trains from Harwich to the Hook of Holland and exotic destinations beyond. On a table opposite, love’s young reem, Bill and Rikki from Billericay, chew on one another’s faces while I chew over a six-for-£20 ‘grazer’ selection that includes mini burger sliders (fair) smoked salmon in cheese scones (was that ‘stones’?) and risible, rubbery ‘blackpudding scotch egg’ (the dog’s chew toy minus the squeak). Suddenly, that Spam looks inviting. The prototype for a chain, The Merchant hopes to ‘revolutionise the station pub.’ I’ll stick with The Gilbert Scott at St.Pancras, thanks. 
Lower Concourse, Liverpool Street Station  

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Piano, Soho (CLOSED see BAR TITANIA)

These Chinatown premises have seen off a succession of swish cocktail lounges and even swishier gay bars including Geisha, an ill-fated short-lived oriental cocktail lounge aimed at older chaps looking for a bit of Gok, as far as I could tell when I visited. But Kensington's High Street's original Piano's second fiddle seems to be hitting the right notes with a theatrical crowd drawn to its effervescent brand of camp show tunes at the old joanna. Say Hello Dolly to cocktails from £9.50. White lady, Moscow mule, Singapore sling and sidecar are suitably retro rinses for roisterous rat pack singalongs. Owner Bazz Norton is a jazz pianist and ex-cruise ship crooner whose bona sense of humour belongs in a 1960s smut-com featuring Sid James and Hattie Jacques - Carry On Tinkling, perhaps.  Hence, ‘Pianist Envy’ and champagne cocktail, Piano Pick-me-up - an open invitation to a skint chorus boy on the make? A limited selection of wines from £4.50 and champagne from £8.50 a glass are available but eats are restricted to crisps and nuts, unless you pre-order buffet bites for parties of 10 or more. Punters range from elfin boys to a fabulous dame I took to be Ethel Merman until I was informed the curtain had finally fallen on her act. Taking her old hit if My Friends Could See Me Now to extremes, maybe the old trouper had herself stuffed to be wheeled around town by adoring fans? The idiosyncratic Piano is a fun night out in a jazz hands/ John Barrowman kind of way. Prepare to make new friends meet fellow closet Judy Garland fans and razzle dazzle 'em.
75 Charing Cross Road WC2H 0NE 7287 7699 

Friday, 4 May 2012

House of Tippler, East Dulwich

When Jo Brand branded Streatham ‘a sh**hole’, its ‘town centre manager’ (if not some residents who agreed with the comedian) blew a gasket. Was the mouthy old bint comparing SW16 unfavourably to her adopted Dulwich where chichi gift shops and dinky bars await Leftie luvvies fleeing grittier ‘hoods ? I’d be smug too if I had a House of Tippler in my manor. With its sleek 1960s Planet G Plan furniture (rescued from a Streatham semi whose owners aspire to wall-to-wall IKEA?) and a sprinkle of kitsch - dig the loos’ pole dancer wallpaper - Lordship Lane’s latest lounge could be in Notting Hill whose gilded classes, in turn, would deem Dulwich a dump... had they ever been there. Even in W11, you won’t better Tippler’s £7.50 ‘tails. Try classy (twisted) house Manhattan, Phony Negroni, Metro (thanks, guys!) or Tina: that’s a cognac and quail egg flip, not the Class A preference of some Streathamites. Imaginatively presented, owner Tim Oakley’s 3 for £10 ‘pinxtos’ - who knew Basque was big in the burbs? - include melty onglet with fat chips, fun mini hot dogs and peppered squid with ‘banga couda’(sic). If I were Jo, I’d park my big butt chez House of Tippler - or ‘HOT’ as I brand it - on a regular basis.  123 Lordship Lane, SE22 8HU 7998 4878