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Friday, 24 May 2013

Bar Titania, Soho

Will this latest gay/ straight friendly concept prove to be a winner at a hostile site that, in fairly rapid succession, has seen off numerous passing fancies,  among them Geisha, Piano Lounge and Longshots? Let's just say, I wish the owners luck but won't be betting my best Turnbull and Asser double cuff on it. Like the FTSE's miners, gay bars' stock is low these days. I blame social media. Like Video Killed The Radio Stars, Grindr and Gaydar killed the gay bars. Let's face it; If a thrusting blade aims to cop off, why hang around in bars hawking his harris when he can show it online and have hot top - 10 Inches/ cut/ into uniform, red, yellow and Paris Hilton - Hector from Honduras's cock up his tail in less time than it takes a barman to make a Carol Channing cocktail? Hoping to strike it lucky on the gay bar scene, Titania's vision is a mere cosmetic rehash of what  went before.  Conspiring against them is the space's tricky layout - a narrow bar in a narrow corridor serving a claustrophobic windowless box-room beyond and, upstairs, a vast lounge detached from any downstairs buzz....should there ever be any. Overseen by the Shakespearian Queen herself -  imagined in a mural that I can't imagine anyone is about to tear down, banking on auctioning it, like a Banksy, for six figures - here's a gauche mix of lumpen furniture, clichéd feature floral wallpaper/ chandelier combo and, in that airy upstairs cream space, bland cream seating groups, cream candles and display table units (in cream) in which copies of Boyz and Pride await your perusal. What was the design brief, I wonder? A gay Guildford GUM clinic's reception room? If the interior is not your bag, you can groove along to Barbara Bush's disco ditties -no, not Dubya's mummy; a bloke from Battersea sporting fake titties, I'm told. If Babs is not your bag, enjoy your £6.95 cosmo or caipirinha - or a bottle of Ayala (£45) if you're a piss elegant poseur - in Titania's ‘beautiful outside  space with relaxed seating, candlelight and stunning plants' - aka a dreary covered patio overlooking fume-choked, charmless Charing Cross Road. I'm confused. Weren't gay bars once the most cutting-edge joints in town? Or was that - like Rock Hudson's image as
 as a straight stud muffin  a load of old bollocks too? As it is, another old closet case springs to mind here, currently being admirably played in cinemas by Michael Douglas. And if you reckon Titiania's Liberace-lite pose will pull in the punters in their gazillions, then you  might be 'away with the fairies' as my grandmother used to say.  

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Blind Pig, Soho

When your next door neighbour is Milk and Honey, you're in good company... and up against stiff competition, M and H’s head barman looks pretty satisfied with his cocktail when I spot him parked up at the butch copper-topped bar at chef/ owner Jason Atherton's new cocktail lounge upstairs at Social Eating House. As, based on the evidence of my first rinse of the night, well he might. Despite its iffy name, the ‘Ooh-Arr-Tinez’ - a Somerset cider brandy spin on a martinez - is a success. One barman totally nails a Plymouth dry martini - always a litmus test - where so many others drown the gin in vermouth: wet, wet, wet? Because my name's Marti Pellow? When I stray off menu, however, things  get temporarily wobbly - one enthusiastic soul suggesting vodka as a key component of a smoky mescal old-fashioned. Suggestion declined. Blind Pig owes its name to those American forerunners of the speakeasy where, to outfox the authorities, hucksters would charge a steep admission fee to spectate a (legal) novelty attraction such as a pig or a tiger in a blindfold, plying their guests with complimentary liquor while they were about it. At £9 for The Rosefield (Chase Marmalade vodka, Punt e Mes, apricot brandy and Fernet Branca), the admission price here is about right and the handsome, if not entirely original, room - all 1930s film noir, wood panelled gin joint - looks like the kind of place a femme fatale in a Mickey Spillane novella would meet a hired gun to plot her husbands's demise. I can live without some of the wackier elements on the menu: Skittles-washed Ketel One, pickle brine, popcorn-infused bourbon and choccy alcopops (not all in the same glass, mercifully) aren't high on my agenda; but factor in bar bites such as rillettes, mac'n'cheese, cod brandade and duck fat chips with aïoli, and I reckon this little piggy will bring home the bacon for his master. 
58 Poland Street W1F 7NR 7993 3251

Friday, 17 May 2013

Crown and Shuttle, Shoreditch

Once, a seedy pole-dancing joint patronised by lonely Polish plumbers ("for cash I do you good deal, Mister sir") and dodgy Del Boy wankers - literally -  the Crown and Shuttle has reverted to its historic role as a public house. And a rather nice one that reflects the new beer fancier's needs, it is. Its mission? To slake thirsts with fine London ales such as Redemption Urban Dusk, East London Nightwatchman, Redchurch Old Ford stout (£3.60) and quality foreign brain-blasters. Wines from £17 include Pinot G at £26 and tasty street scran from a van - all gleamy 50s chrome - is one reason the urban courtyard garden out back is packed out. Another, is the chance to play table footie and ping-pong. The decor - all downbeat-bare-brick-distressed with a few 50s chairs lobbed in the mix - harks back to the days before this neighbourhood figured on most folk's radars. My date, who worked across the street in a branding agency before it felt compelled to move on to Plaistow, East Ham, Becontree or some other far-flung District Line exotic I'll no doubt be reporting back from, come 2015, as the new Shoreditch, sniffily dismisses some of The Crown's punters as 'suspiciously Barnsbury.' Meanwhile, due to cunningly placed signage, I'm about embarrass myself by mistaking a storage room for the bogs - and no, on one bloody Mary I am not bloody well pished! As it is, nobody notices. As far as the check shirt nu-Edwardian hirsute hipsters and shaven-headed Shoreditch pale and peculiars are concerned, interloping West London boy is invisible. 
226 Shoreditch High Street E1 6PJ 7375 2905 

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Disco, Soho

Do I really need to go to... DISCO?

What: a new nightclub from Charlie Gilkes and Duncan Stirling - the brains behind Bunga Bunga and Maggie’s - disco promises ‘the glamour of Studio 54 and the atmosphere of Paradise Garage’ (I'll be the judge of that, mista!) with podium dancers and shirtless waiters in shiny tight shorts designed to show off their glitter-balls

Where: 13 Kingly Court, Soho. Twitter @DiscoSoho

When: from 28th June 

Pros: Ask the Hot Shot DJ for your fave Instant Replay, then get set to Jump To The Beat.  Do It Anyway You Wanna (Do It), and Dance Dance Dance (Yowsah! Yowsah! Yowsah!) at Funkytown’s latest Boogie Wonderland. Young Hearts Run Free, so after some (eye-to-eye) Contact, get ready to Get Down and Push Push (In The Bush) with those Bad Girls (toot, toot, yeh, beep, beep!!) 

Cons: none. A 70’s Disco Inferno? That’s The Way I Like It (uh-huh, uh-huh) and Shame Shame Shame, shame on you, if you can’t dance too! 

Go with: Gary’s Gang, Ms Grace, her Sister, Sledge, and Le Freak - coz He’s The Greatest Dancer.  

PS: bonus points to everyone that can identify who recorded all those big disco hits.
Here's one


Friday, 10 May 2013

Propstore 2013, Southbank

Packed with props from recent NT productions, last year’s South Bank summer essential p(r)op-up is back for another sell-out season that will last until the sun sets on September. As locations go, postcard-perfect views of the Thames and a ringside seat for the Southbank’s always entertaining passagiata are hard to trump and this year, the astro-turfed terrace is larger than before for maximum posing/ people-watching possibilities. Sip Sipsmith gin coolers, cups and cocktails, draught Meantime lager and various London-brewed artisan bottled beers, English wines, and order street grub - fish finger sandwich, steak and ale rissoles, sweet potato and chickpea falafel, scotch egg, and boxed salads - at resting actor prices. There's live music on Saturdays at 9 pm, and a special late licence means DJs can play until 2 am at weekends - cue late-night luvvies on the lash, sozzled on the South Bank claiming they're method actors in preparation for a production of The Days Of Wine And Roses, a play and a film starring Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon as a pair of  alcoholic lovers.  If you spot one familiar luvvie face ahem, 'propping' up the bar, for Pete's sake don’t mention Vicious: the ITV sitcom Frances de la Tour appears opposite Serena McKellan and Derek Jacobi (channeling John Inman in Are You Being Served) is more ‘Gordon Bennet!’ than Alan Bennett - whose new play, People, de la Tour  starred in at The Lyttelton this Spring.   
National Theatre, Southbank SE1

Thursday, 9 May 2013

GNH Bar, King's Cross

Located in Cubitt’s elegant Victorian crescent, once grand, The Great Northern Hotel at King's Cross station had fallen on hard times when I first visited it aeons ago. My godmother had arranged to meet me there after I'd come off the Flying Scotsman from Edinburgh. A former Bluebell Girl, she wafted in, fashionably late, in a cloud of Sobranie smoke and Mitsouko, glamourous as ever in a vintage topaz shantung silk swing-back coat and colour-matched kid kitten heels. All Kim Novak chic, she looked seriously out of place in the terminally depressed, shabby hotel lounge. Over afternoon tea - all chipped cups, sad curled up sulphuric egg and salad cream sandwiches and Elastoplast pink stale fondant fancies nobody could remotely fancy - she reminisced how the place had been an elegant spot for brandy blazers with boyfriends back in her glamourous high-kicking prime. Fast forward to 2013, I'm invited back for the Great Northern's re-launch. After a £40 million refurbishment, is it really once again a hotel fit for a (similarly regenerated) major London railway terminus? Its £300+ per night rooms sure look smart; there's a handsome brasserie, Plum + Spilt Milk, and, at street level, a new lounge that reckons itself  ‘a railway bar without rival in Europe.’ Ah! Somebody send GNH's marketing bods an InterEurope Railcard! Compared to Alter Wartesaal at Cologne's main station, say, or all spell-binding gilded Belle Époque opulence, Le Train Bleu at Paris's Gare De Lyon - to name but two railway grandees that might contest their hubristic claim - faux Art deco, mirrored ceilings, glitzy glass chandeliers and twee drinks presentation feels slightly small town and passé - an impression not helped by (sweet)  staff in black cling mini-dresses looking like the girls backing  Robert Palmer in his iconic Addicted To Love video, and a housey soundtrack my style arbiter date describes as 'like the wrong bit of Ibiza... in 2003.' Cocktails such as Portobello gin Northern Sour, and Woodford Reserve cardamom and smoked pineapple stir, 1854, are fair enough at £9, but an off-menu request for something mezcal-based elicits 'what's mezcal?' in reply from one friendly amateur barman. As for the bar food, let's hope Mark Sargeant - drafted in to oversee it, I'm told - had no hand in lame launch night canapes. If you're King's Cross bound, drop in: anything is preferable to the catering on East Coast's trains but if you're looking for a London railway bar without rival, try the gorgeous Gilbert Scott at St. Pancras.
King’s Cross N1C 4TB 3388 0800 

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Queen of Hoxton, Shoreditch

Question: do I really need to attend... Summertime on the Rooftop?
What: hip happenings and open-air cinema in a Shoreditch boozer’s roof-top garden.
Where: The Queen of Hoxton, 1 - 5 Curtain Road EC2
When: from May until September see for details
Pros: Keep On Movin’ to old skool summery sounds from guest DJs Jazzie B, Norman Jay at al at Headphone Disco. Get your best cossie’n’sarong on and create a splash at Hot Tub Tropicana parties. Watch Some Like It Hot, Taxi Driver and other cool classic flicks at the Queen’s nightly alfresco cinema paradiso (also showing).
Cons: surely no amount of iced tea cocktails could compensate for sitting through Jaws, again? That rubber shark is just not scary any more. Did someone say hot tubs? Warm bubbling liquid petri dishes = hypochondriac hell
Go with: Piz Buin Factor 30. ‘Burn baby burn, disco inferno’ is not to be taken literally.

The Midnight Apothecary, Rotherhithe

 Open each Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon from May until the end of September, park yourself on a deckchair at urban gardener Lottie Muir’s compact oasis on the Brunel Museum’s roof at olde riverside Rotherhithe. Summer cocktails (from £6) made with selected ingredients from the garden’s pop-up bar might typically include whiskey mint julep, gin and lavender fizz, Calvados and maple syrup Collins, fennel-infused rhubarb vodkatini, honey and basil daiquiri and cups and breezers prettified with edible blossom and scented petals. On Sundays, Hertfordshire-based itinerant chefs/ hunter gatherers, The Foragers, supply seasonal ‘wild street food.’  Pop-up opera, classical music and more at the Brunel are part of the fun and in the garden itself, anticipate sporadic magical happenings and special activities for nippers so their yummy mummies can slump in a deck-chair and get lightly sozzled on gin and lavender fizz as they wearily reminisce about how, only three years ago, they would have been out until sunrise on a Saturday night, all teeth-grindy-gurny-faced and blitzed off-their-tits faces, living it large at a warehouse rave on a disused Croydon industrial estate. The sacrifices a parent makes, eh little Jack and Poppy?
Brunel Museum, Railway Avenue, SE16 4LF

Friday, 3 May 2013

Lazybones, Farringdon

"Lazybones, sitting in the sun, how you gonna get your day's work done?" asked Jonathon King in his 1971 cover of the old American classic. That was back in the good old days when no kiddie was safe from Britain's clandestine army of paedo pop-stars and gropey-ropey TV personalities, now exposed on a daily basis in a tsunami of lurid tabloid revelations. Ex-jailbird King's question might well apply at new Smithfield bar, Lazybones, whose sun-trap courtyard tables and keenly priced food and drink offer might tempt Clerkenwell creatives to bunk off for the afternoon. American diner styling and cartoon graphics circa Happy Days set the tone. Order Yankee brewskis from Dixie and Lonestar, wine from under £16, espresso martini, maple old-fashioned, and popcorn from a retro counter-top machine. As custom now demands, 'fast, fuss-free, lip-smacking food' (a description I'm not about to take issue with) - such as BBQ wings, falafel wraps, hot dogs, brisket and pulled pork sandwich and slaw - is served from the back of an old van; in this case in a trompe-l’oeil of a 1950’s Citroën camionette. Paris, Texas, then? Apparently, the soundtrack can be programmed, by you the DJ, using a special app. Perhaps not dodgy Jonathon's greatest hits, one of which ,Loop di Love, he released under the pseudonym of er, SHAG. (relive the grim old days here )
Unit 5 Cowcross St EC1M 6DQ