Dive bars: I love a louche lair populated by weird, wired interestings whose only brush with daylight will come as they slope home, bleary-...
Tuesday, 22 April 2014
The Shelter at the Big Easy, Covent Garden
Claws out for cocktails in Covent Garden
I don't care for video games. In my world, there's only one Super Mario... and that's Testino. Drawn ever deeper into the labyrinthine bowels of the Big Easy in search of a new cocktail bar called The Shelter, I feel like I'm in an old school arcade game. Dungeon Master? Mountain King? Wizard of Wor? Prince of Persia? The ruddy Sultan of Brunei? I'm not sure what ancient Atari time-waster this cluttery clattery claustrophobic maze reminds me of, but by the time I locate my destination, on Level Zero minus 1 of this vast BBQ pit/ seafood shack, I'm feeling hot, hemmed in and a little urm, crabby. Resident head honcho Lee Potter Cavanagh greets me and proceeds to expound his theory as to why 'Gimme Shelter' should henceforth be my default cocktail clarion call. "London has some great high-end hotel bars, Artesian for instance, but it's not so great for good-times bars," states this sage son of Melbourne... presumably just off the boat or spending too much time Down Under in his Shelter, removed from the reality above. I almost choke on my drink; partly because simultaneously guffawing at such a daft claim while swigging booze is a bad idea, but more because it's oddly unpleasant. Reimagining a New Orleans classic, one of my regular calls, as a slushie may have worked on paper but in the flesh, a drink that's the colour of clubbed seal pup on fresh snow and tastes like whiskey-laced Pepto-Bismol doesn't cut it: a sadder sazerac, I've yet to sip. Cavanagh's offer ticks many of today's modish boxes - viz an absinthe fountain, picklebacks, disco drinks, cocktails on tap (vieux carre presented in a carafe in an ice-filled tumbler, to decant into a shot glass), and other revenant rinses such as an income tax cocktail that stands up to inspection - as it should, at over £10.50 (with service). Bar snacks are big brutes but 'voodoo' wings are as bland as Smooth-FM dodo Dido. 'Jumbo' shrimps - as in the size of a 747? - are fair but stick with the chilli sauce, one of two dips served on the side: I'd rather a Peruvian peasant's cock cheese than the Big E's curious blue cheese. Talking of Peruvians, one of my litmus tests of a good times bar is to ask myself whether Super Mario would party there with his mate Kate Moss? If you're a pap loitering outside on the off-chance, keep me posted. You'll find me across the street at Rules - admittedly not your typical Big Easy customer's definition of a good time bar, I imagine.