Thursday, 25 June 2009

Greece is the Word - Syros, Mykonos, Andros, and Athens

So the plan was to continue writing this blog while on my annual two weeks of 'forced' vacation - which this year happens to be in the Greek islands.
Sadly the three S's of traveling - sunshine, socialising and slurring have played havoc with my 'creativity' and the writing has simply not happened.
So be it. I shall pick up the blog upon my return to the fair isles where I will pass comment on the wonderful tabernas, bars and clubs; the dancing on Syros, the gay piano bar in Mykonos, Ramrods, the nightclub that does what it says on the box, and best of all a genuine 'big fat' Greek wedding on the island of Andros, home to Greece's shipping magnates.
It doesn't get better then this said the Northerner. And I have to admit that she's right.
Speak to you soon. In a week or so.

Yours truly

Monday, 15 June 2009

Pitcher and Piano, Bishopsgate

Defining exactly what it is that makes a bar or pub bad can be tricky. One person’s upmarket and cool, is another person’s overpriced and pretentious. One person’s ‘party atmosphere and dancing’ bar is cheesy and laddish to others. However one thing that everyone seems to agree on though is that chain pubs are bad.
This is perhaps unfair. For many years I loved a now departed chain of pubs that worked a pun into their name to wonderful comic effect – come along and have a Firkin good time went the marketing. So clever. Yet the Northerner and many other people I know despised them with venom. Other chains such as Jamie’s, Wetherspoons, Davy’s and the like have all drawn their fair share of praise and scorn in equal measure. Although everyone I know dislikes All Bar One – conservative, repetitive and bland, they are the Coldplay of bars.
Of course it’s easy to knock chain bars. The very concept of replica-fit drinking haunts conjures up images of Starbucks and McDonalds, and sadly many of these chains were the pub equivalents of those two American institutions.
One chain that has been around for as long as I’ve been in this glorious country is the Pitcher and Piano and on Friday we schlepped across to the Bishopsgate branch to for the leaving drinks of the Cricketer. A popular young man is our Cricketer and he attracted a good turnout, all overcoming their concerns at his choice of venue. P&P on Bishopsgate is very much in the ‘party atmosphere and dancing’ camp, with cheap drinks a plenty, loud cheesy music, and boys and girls dressed to the nines for a bit of after work fun and flirting. And it depends on your take on what I’ve just said as to whether it can be declared a good or bad bar, but regardless the place was certainly full of atmosphere as my colleagues and I veered towards the disgraceful side of being drunk. There are no pretty young things or urban hipsters here. There are few if any people over 30, and even less over 40. There is a lot of shouting, and dancing that looks like stumbling, and stumbling that looks like falling. There are big rounds of drinks complete with shots and cheap champagne. Whether any of these ingredients make it a good bar I’m not sure. The Northerner and Heavy D most certainly didn’t think so. But it is a fun bar, and I guess that’s all you can ask for from a chain.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Birthday blues – Club Gascon and Vinoteca, Smithfield Markets

Birthdays aren’t what they used to be. When we were younger we would go out with a gang of friends on a Friday night (regardless of what day your birthday was) and buy or be bought drinks until we fell over. Chips, burgers or food from a petrol station was the closest thing you had to a meal. Then the next day, severely hung-over we would try and convince our parents that our studies /part-time job were going well but not to bother with a present as we needed cash for ‘books’.
Nowadays the ‘gang’ are often busy tending to partners, careers and in some cases children. The parents don’t want to speak to us lest it remind them of how old they actually are. And with an age and in some cases a waistline, heading towards or north of 40, one tends to think twice as to how much noise you want to make about the event.
Heavy D’s annual coming of age nearly slipped me by if it hadn’t been for my social lifeline that is Facebook (fact, guys, never, ever remember their mates birthday’s unless it falls on a significant date like Xmas or payday). ‘I don’t want to celebrate’ he groaned. Well too bad as I did, so under duress the Heavy one agreed to meet me in Smithfield’s for a night of drinks and eats.
After a couple of sharpeners at the Red Cow, we headed down to Club Gascon for an aperitif or two. We were joined by Heavy’s brother the Photographer, who is as thin, fashionable and edgy as we are large, unfashionable and uncool. He was on cracking form and he regaled us with stories about which celebrities and or sports stars are / are not gay (all of them apparently) and the perils of life as a pictures man ,while eying up the pretty young boy things in the bars. Quality fella.
Gascon is a beautiful place with a reputation to match, and although we only did wine and starters there it didn’t disappoint. Superb food and drinks, and a very relaxed, albeit quiet, atmosphere. It’s definitely a place to impress a first date as its quite romantic. However given the lads were not on a date or in the slightest bit feeling romantic we rocked around the corner to Vinoteca on St Johns street.
This is ostensibly a wine shop that serves food but that description doesn’t do the place justice. The place has the ambience of the best French brasserie and pulls of that neat trick of sitting you close enough to your fellow diners that you can almost hear their every word, but not so close that it’s an inconvenience. The food was superb, the wine was gorgeous, and the service, despite being from New Zealand, was pretty damned good also. I focused on knocking back a beautiful bottle of Chablis while the brothers Grim debated endless points about their childhood. So a good night had by all.
I must try Club Gascon for dinner, but my pick of the two is Vinoteca for its more rustic feel and buzzy atmosphere. And I won’t be waiting for my next birthday to go again.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Drinking prohibited - Jamaica Wine House and Prohibition, the City

This weekend may have been the tipping point. When I finally concede that going out drinking and partying hard all weekend is a young person’s game. A game from which a person should retire graciously not disgracefully. A game that isn’t good for you.

The only problem is that it’s so much damned fun - so enough of the remorse and on with the recap. Friday night lights saw a motley crew of Heavy D, the Engineer, the Running Man and yours truly descend upon the wonderfully misnamed Jamaica Wine House. In tow were two guys from work, who by virtue of being born in the eighties were boy band like compared to the aging rock star that we were in both physique and style. The Jamaica Wine House is not the type of place I imagine you would find in Jamaica. Nor is it a ‘Wine House’ in the traditional sense, but a lovely old fashioned pub. However apparently it is on the site of London’s first coffee house from back in 1652 and apparently the ‘new’ pub is 19th century. So like all things English – it’s very old. It’s also very, very good and the gang and the boy band settled into a hearty male-bonding session based on talking about ourselves. The foundation stones of any good drinking session.

The boy band departed, probably in search of someone younger and more interesting people to talk to and the remaining crew kicked on for a nightcap or three at Prohibition on Bishopsgate. Prohibition is a bar in the genre as Strawberry Moons and Abacus – cheap drinks, cheesy music and a good times atmosphere. Cool it most certainly isn’t but it’s the sort of place that is common across the UK with the main difference being that in the London variety people tend to come straight from work. So suit city then. I was criticised Braveheart recently for not saying anything bad about any bars I reviewed, as if to imply this was a bad thing. I will give him this then – Prohibition, as with the rest of its brethren, is not a great bar, but it is a lot of fun, and a good place to indulge in some serious partying. But be warned; it's a young persons game.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Living in Sin – Living Room and Strawberry Moons, Heddon Street

I had I had never heard of the expression ‘commuter belt’ until I arrived in the UK. It took me a long time to realise what it meant, and even longer to know people who aspired to, or worse did actually live there. Yet as I sat on a train to Epsom over the weekend, I was still none the wiser as to why anyone on earth would want to become part of that scene. I mean it’s not the city, and it’s definitely not the country, but it isn’t really the suburbs either. Rather it’s a collection of people who like semi-detached houses, Chinese takeaways, 4 X  4’s, Waterloo train station and shopping in Waitrose. In that order. Plus someone even tutted at me when I went to open a beer on the train. I mean tutting – who ever does that in real life?

However it is obviously good for kiddies (why people who live in these areas say kiddies instead of kids or children I’ll never know), and given the houses that these people live in its very good for barbecues. Thus the reason I found myself at the Quiff and Texas Embassy girls place for a superb afternoon of sunshine, drinks, and several variations of meat, not to mention some pretty damned fine company. However after several hours of the Engineer and I enlightening (or some might say boring) the other guests on the intricacies of rugby, Heavy D declared time and we headed into town to meet his dear friend Radio 4 for a cheeky vino at Living Room in Heddon Street.

Living Room is one of those bars that I have spent many an evening in with the Northerner given its close proximity to fashion city, and it is a splendid place. I’d never been on a Saturday before mind you, and was pleasantly surprised that the normal collection of Mayfair suits and fashion buyers had been replaced by good natured tourists and overloaded shoppers all enjoying the al fresco drinking and general ambience of the street. The bar serves a great selection of wine by what seems the pint, and has some nice laid back ‘lounge bar’ music going on which isn’t as bad as it sounds. The place is hardly hip but everyone pays a lot of attention to how they look which seems to pay off. By coincidence I even bumped into the Don who was on a night out with an ‘acquaintance’. Whatever. It was good to see him and after bading farewell to Radio 4, we rounded off the night at the atrociously down market Strawberry Moons where we caught up with the Don and his ‘acquaintance’. This bar is an institution and with its cheesy music, oversized cocktails and fun and frills mix, it’s a hen party magnet. Which of course tends to attract a certain type of fella. Ånd after several hefty beers Heavy and I decided to call it a night after the staggering realisation that we had finally stumbled upon a bar too downmarket even for us. And given that I have spent a night at the Reflex in Cardiff that is saying something.

But the Living Room is definitely a great watering hole, and Heddon Street on a sunny evening is a superb place to soak in all that’s good about the West End. And even dear old Strawberry Moons held up well in the spotlight. Although I suspect a lot of their patrons are from the commuter belt.