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Friday, 26 October 2012

Qui Qui Ri Qui, Hoxton (Now CLOSED)

I'm not happy. It's chucking it down. I'm out East, and I'm being dissed by a lump of lard parked up in his fart-filled white van. 'Oi darling, ' he sneers, perving over my Glamazonian blonde date, 6ft tall in this season's Marc Jacobs heels and hot pants. 'What you doing with a fat old bastard like 'im, when you could 'ave me' - not to mention the chlamydia, crack habit, spent Stella cans, takeaway containers and skid-marked rancid baby-batter-stained Primark trackie bottoms strewn on the floor of a fetid pit on BNP Avenue E29 that accompany his gracious offer? His type, and the waaaaay scarier wankers who held me up there at knifepoint, aeons ago, are why I largely avoid Hackney Road by night. I have also largely avoided mescal since I holed-up in Mexico - shaking, sobbing and quasi-sectionable - after over-enthusiastic youthful experimentation with tequila’s turbo-charged sister convinced me I was being stalked by a giant sombrero-wearing Technicolor killer banana called Hector. (Me, paranoid... much?) Tonight, I’m back in mescal's Hackney a louche David Lynch-esque basement, its walls plastered with brash 1960s Mexican cartoon porn depicting pneumatic bimbos pursued by ’El Afeitador’ (the shaver) ‘de Pubis’ (guess!). What could possibly go wrong? Ominious as it seems on paper, this sexy/sleazy (legal) late-late-night shebeen - located beneath a kebab shop, for added glamour - is all good. The rare spirits sold at London’s first dedicated mezcaleria, QuiQuiRiQui - that’s cock-a-doodle-do in Spanish to you - really are worth crowing about. After £8 Mescal Negroni and Pink Taco cocktails, mine (Danish) hippy host - who is happily ‘living the mescal lifestyle, man’ - introduces me to the hard stuff. Subtle Santa Domingo Albarradas - all pear drops, pepper, chilli and turmeric notes - for example, would hold its own against many a malt whisky. As, at £10.95 per double, it bloody well should. Presently, Mistress Mescal’s magical fuzzy buzz kicks in, so too does a familiar track, and I'm rendered Comfortably Numb. Have I really spotted Jake Shears dressed as a Day of the Dead skeleton by the tiny bar, or am I hallucinating again? Hackney Road: guaranteed walk on the wild side
184 Hackney Road E2 7QL

Purple Bar at the Sanderson, Fitzrovia

I've never been a fan of purple - the go-to hue for the mentally disturbed and midget US pop stars inter alia. Nor  did I go a bundle on The Purple Bar any time I visited it. 'Up its own arse' - the phrase that springs to mind when it was THE place to go. Its PR invites me back. All designer goth Twilight zone, it is the sort of dark, discrete, high-end, hole-up where RPatz, dumped by Kirsten, might woo her understudy. Previously accessible only to resident hotel guests, any Joe Schmo with the cost of its upmarket cocktails is welcome, so long as he's phoned ahead to make a reservation. That cost - £21.27 for a Sipsmith martini - is higher than a Ryanair flight to Warsaw but on balance, I'd still rather have the drink, steep as it may be.  A menu will be produced on request, but head barman Michelangelo prefers to offer a bespoke service. After an extensive at-table consultation, his suggestions - a vodka and rhubarb sour and an aged version of a classic Boulevardier (bourbon, Campari and vermouth) - are given the thumbs up; but a sherry-based alternative to a Martinez is less successful. Back on-menu, I like a selection of martinis that includes Franklin Roosevelt (a mildly dirty, dirty martini) and Eddie Brown (made with a dash of apricot brandy). Ultimat Kir (Dom P, Desbons cassis and gold flake) and  B&B King - vintage 1940 Martell and similarly aged Bénédictine at £490 - are perhaps best left to stars of Mr Pattinson’s wattage at a hotel that still attracts a fair few visiting A-Listers. That only six punters are in when I pitch up, mid-evening, says something about its current hot draw status in the eyes of resident Londoners.
The Sanderson, 50 Berners Street W1T 3NG

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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Bittersweet, Soho

Open to random lushes until 10pm, Bittersweet then morphs into a members-only DJ lounge. Sign up for free membership online if you plan to enjoy late-night cocktails in West Soho and can't crash Milk and Honey, The Player, The Groucho etc, etc, etc, etc. Set in a slightly claustrophobic submarine-like basement, as the Pinstripe Club, this was where Christine Keeler and Profumo trysted in a 1960s scandal that ultimately brought the government down. Latterly, it was the Kingly Club, whose cool cream leather Bond villain lair look has been ousted in favour of new pinky white decor that's sophisticated in a kind of early 90s Essex wine bar way - or like a 'Chicken Cottage's lavs' according to my date who clearly gets around more than I do. From a range of £9 classics that includes Aviation, Martininez (sic) and Sazerac, Negroni is fair, but  served over too many ice cubes, Vieux Carré quickly becomes too dilute.  Signatures include Vanilla Monk - vodka, Frangelico, Kahlua and cream; spirits by the bottle start at £120 (for Grey Goose/ Tanqueray/ ); and early-bird deals include £10 off champagne and half price wine and cocktails. Bittersweet’s sister is Dirty Martini whose two West End bars, on balance, I prefer.
4 Kingly Court W1B 5PW 0844 371 2550 

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Friday, 19 October 2012

Shebeen, Kentish Town

Shebeens were clandestine drinking premises where illicit whiskey was flogged to cloth capped Paddys in the Emerald Isle of yore. From there, the phenomenon spread first to Scotland, then to the USA and South Africa. Populated by loose-limbed, dope-head West Indians (and their white English posh girl admirers), shebeens became a fixture of Notting Hill in the 1950s. Fast forward 60-odd years and a legal tribute to the species has turned up in London NW5, the latest addition to this popular local Brit/Med bistro. In a downstairs dive that looks like a cross between a 20s speakeasy and a 70s Northern working man’s club, pimped hooch includes a range of classic cocktails at £6.50 (or 241 on 5.30 pm - 7.30 pm happy hour each night). Pile into the ‘snug’ ‘nook’ or ‘cranny’ - former police holding cells - and try Singapore Sling, Elderberry Collins, Mai Tai English Julep and Dark and Stormy - the dark rum and ginger beer mule popularised by Jamaicans in London circa The Profumo Affair (Christine Keeler and Lucky Gordon hung out in a shebeen that is now the venue for Tom Conran's Chamucos Clubhouse in Westbourne Park). Authentic Irish poitin - once banned due to its high alcoholic content - adds a frisson of excitement and there's beer from local lads, Camden Town Brewery. 
Kentish Canteen 300 Kentish Town Rd NW5 2TG 7485 7331

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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Duck and Waffle, City

Insomniacs with an interest in molecular mixology, apply within. Long after other watering holes have closed, Duck and Waffle’s lights (and creative cocktail-shakers) remain switched on, forty floors above the slumbering City below. Whether it’s for a wee small hours one-for-the-road Monkey Shoulder Whisky Sour (with rosemary and truffle foam), a G and T ponced up with rose petal and yuzu spume, or a bespoke breakfast Bloody Mary, D and W’s inside-out bar - think Garfunkel’s salad bar geared to adventurous drinkers with the £13 price of Dark and Stormy ‘bottled and bagged’ Bowery bum-style for modern-day Marie-Antoinettes’ amusement - is a fun, if slightly pretentious experience. Open 24/7 - although no hard liquor is available between 3 am and 8am  - its ‘iconoclastic’ cocktails are often prepared using unexpected ingredients: Sarson’s malt vinegar in your margarita? Why didn't I think of that? Staff, happy to waffle on about their ‘craft’, will not duck out of a challenge to ‘make mine a Mescal and Marmite martini, garçon!’ But like Marmite, opinion is split 50/50 on some of the smoke and mirrors mixology the date and I sampled:  A blow-torched barrel stave provided the smoke, lots of it, for a house Manhattan adjudged ‘complex and interesting’ or ‘like being at a party and accidentally drinking bourbon from the glass into which someone dropped a cigarette butt.’ Either way, you’ll find plenty to entertain you until the sun comes up. 
Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate EC2N 4AY 3640 7310 

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Old Bengal Warehouse, City

Many of D and D's numerous London’s restaurants also include worthwhile bars. Each in its own way, the likes of Le Coq d’Argent (chic roof garden); Floridita (Mad Men-era Havana supper club); and Skylon (postcard-perfect vista and matching cocktails) make my ‘old standby’ list. To this, add the bar at the Old Bengal Warehouse, the group’s autumn City launch. Set in a simpatico conversion of grade II-listed premises in which the East India Company once stored Georgian-day necessities - tea, silks, opium - this seductive, low-lit, tobacco-tone lounge works beautifully. Its focus, a butch bar with high stools, is staffed by on-the-ball blokes who might double as Hugo Boss models. At around £9.50, rinses such as Pisco and Aperol sour, Martini with a Spot (of absinthe), Cider House Rules and Tequila New Fashion are top drawer. I don’t know about Damson In Distress (a whisky and damson liquor flip); but after a potent Martinez (and sundry similar ingestions), this old Bengal lancer (as in Cockney for ‘chancer’) is in barfly-on-a-bender territory. Fortunately, pukka snacks, ‘tiffin’ boxes, lobster cocktail and burger with dopiaza onions and tamarind chutney act as damage limitation. I also hazily recall a smart all-weather courtyard. Well, that’s my excuse for a repeat reccie.
16 New Street EC2M 4TR 3503 0780 

Friday, 12 October 2012

KCz ( formerly SofaKingCool), Soho

‘Have you tried Sofa King Cool?’ asks a pal. I’m affronted. Do I look like I'm in the market for a leatherette three-piece suite and matching pouffe from some DFS-clone off the North Circular? Sofa King Cool - say it quickly if, like me, you’re a bit slow on the uptake - is Soho's 'modern newest gay concept venue', it transpires. It promises a ‘cosy setting for wanna-be-lovers to fawn over each other’ and a ‘trendy retro feel.’ That'll be 1990 revisited, when, If easyJet did VIP lounges, I imagine they’d have looked like this. All orange, black and shiny with ‘high poseur tables’, stylistically, it's a bit ‘gay’... in the Peckham patois sense of the word. All shiny sculpted cheekbones and matching hair, does our retro-tastic bartender moonlight in a New Kids on the Block tribute band when not making margaritas, I wonder? Served with £4-a-pop bites -  calamari with spicy mayo, fish goujons with chilli mayo and food last deemed 'fancy' when Simon Mayo was still a rookie DJ - ‘professionally prepared cocktails’ include Manhattan, Million Dollar Mojito (£8) and Lavender Martini. Sex on the Beach, also appears: the déclassé Benidorm binge-drinker’s favourite might help lubricate Leroy, a junior crimper at suburban salon Curl Up and Dye - the ‘wanna-be-lover’ some dodgy sugar daddy aims to have his wicked way with, rating him ‘sofa king horny.’ 
23 Frith Street, W1D 4RR 7734 3268 

Postscript: a mere three months after launching, it seems SofaKingCool has singularly failed to pull the Soho Cool. How else to explain its transformation, according to its female CEO, into a "womens only resteraunt (sic) and bar." She tells the Standard newspaper the new venture is to be 'a place .. by women for women...(but) not just for gay women. Networking is the main thing.”  Hmmm why am I thinking Candy Bar crossed with spendy dames-only members club Grace (yours to access for £5,500 pa) in Belgravia? This niche market is notoriously tricky to call. As a DJ in my 20s, I laughed in the face of a straight Northern male club owner who planned to cash in, launching 'Lez Dawson's' - a putative Pimlico gay club for big girls and their fanciers. The sisterhood was not amused: Lez's lasted two weeks. In December, the Canadian rugby-playing female CEO of NotSofaKingCool's replacement canvassed the Twitterati for suggestions as to what sort of bar/ restaurant 'da girls' might be currently hankering after. Given the CEO's idea of a 'yummy meal' (see pic right and at @KCGATES ) coupled with the new venue's  handle "KC'z", what modern wimmin want now, presumably, is something that sounds like a Doncaster dykes disko circa The Hitman and Her.

Post-postscript: 9.15 pm, a wet Thursday night in February 2013: an animated KC is out on Old Compton Street pressing 2-4-1 promo flyers on passers-by like a desperate Playa del Ingles tout. We take one and venture into her kingdom (queendom?). The place looks much the same as before only with even less punters. We leave. Where is the Sunshine Band when KC needs you most?

Post-post-postscript: March 2013. News reaches me that KC'z latest guise is to be as a restaurant called LABELS - which sounds more like a naff designer boutique in Burnley circa Hazell Dean. Apparently, one of its dishes is to be breaded mushrooms with garlic mayo. make that circa early Helen Shapiro....the sort of nice young girl KC'z older target audience might remember fondly. 

Friday, 5 October 2012

London Cocktail Week 2012

London bosses can expect mass absenteeism next week as morning-after casualties of London Cocktail Week conveniently throw ‘sickies'. Readers (who all only ever drink in moderation, natch) can snap up discounted access-all-areas wristbands, available today at the pre-event-only price of £4 (see below). These entitle the holders to £4 cocktails - that’s less than half price - at over 100 of the city’s best bars from 8th - 14th October inclusive. Many of my favourite gin joints - e.g Callooh Callay (EC2), Lucky Pig (W1), the bar at hot-ticket resto Dabbous, and Salvatore Calabrese’s Mad Men-tastic lounge at The Playboy Club - have signed up, and sexy Soho members club, Quo Vadis, will also be welcoming wristband holders. This year, much of the action centres on Seven Dials. Hit the event’s HQ, The Ketel One Hub Bar at 15 Shorts Gardens WC2 (from 10 am to 8 pm daily) for details of  free tastings, cocktail bootcamps, distil-your-own gin sessions and lots of crazy hoochy happenings. Top of the many pop-ups include Smatt’s Jamaica rum and ice cream shack, and free Cointreau ‘tails at Coco de Mer (respectively, at 53 and 23 Monmouth Street WC2), while splendid Edinburgh bar, Bon Vivant, will be doing interesting things with Monkey Shoulder blended malt whisky at 51 Neal St WC2. Frankly, if Berroca, Irn Bru and Alka Seltzer haven’t planned heal-your-hangover pop-ups too, more fool them! 
For full event details and to purchase discounted wristbands, go to