Dive bars: I love a louche lair populated by weird, wired interestings whose only brush with daylight will come as they slope home, bleary-...
Sunday, 2 March 2014
The Joker of Penton, Islington
(Fancy bungin' on Billie Jean, mate?)
Pointing to an oil portrait of a Regency gent on the wall, I ask, "Who's he?" The answer, from a staff member channeling Michael Jackson circa 1979, is suitably Off The Wall. "That's Eric Grimaldi, the joker of Penton Street," he reckons. "The twin brother of famous Sadler's Wells harlequin and Penton Street resident Joseph Grimaldi - he whose trademark white make-up launched the coulrophobia epidemic?" wonders my pal, along for a burger and banter - of which a steady stream from jokey Jacko. The Joker's go-with-the-flow bro' with a 'fro's cheeky chappie lines keep us amused in the absence of any tangible buzz. (It is, to be fair, lunchtime). I tell him I'm not over-keen on my nuclear Tabasco-primed Virgin Mary (Don't worry, guys! I haven't become a born again alco-virgin: I'm driving). It could do with (that key ingredient of a Virgin Mary), "a stick (sic) of basil" according to the daft stick trained up by Basil Fawlty I now like to imagine. My mood doesn't improve when his colleague - the flatmate The Young Ones never had? - pops a heavy metal album on the bar's vintage Dansette record player, where I'd have happily settled for The Jacksons Greatest Hits. ABC: Islington has an alphabet of boss boozers to choose from. My chum would much rather be at The New Rose, The Hops and Glory, The Charles Lamb or any of a dozen more N1 pubs he rates rather than at a thinly disguised reboot of Hundred Crows Rising, the site's previous occupant, a turkey that shot the crow without anybody much noticing. The Joker is the latest London opening from Laine's of Brighton whose ales, brewed at their Hackney acquisition People's Park Tavern, are what to drink here if you don't fancy American craft beers, Heartbreaker Welsh cider on tap, cocktail du jour marmalade gin fizz, or anything from a list of wines from £16. Pop-up outfit Tongue'n'cheek are on kitchen duty. Their scran may not be quite in the top flight of my London best beef patty league, but a moist cheddar, chimichurri sauce, watercress and sour cream-topped effort - served with good rosemary salt fries in a cute candy-strip paper bag - is no Brentford among burgers either. What new decor there is to report, includes outsized wooden comedy/tragedy masks, portraits of old vaudeville turns, and the clock featured on the cover of Oasis album, Be Here Now. Will I be back? Definitely Maybe...who knows? Like the crowd at the late Glasgow Empire that reduced countless English jokers to jelly, I'm tough to please.