Barrio is a Spanish word meaning district or neighbourhood. However in the US barrio is more commonly used to refer to lower-class areas with largely Spanish-speaking residents - the Latino equivalent of a "ghetto". Islington, which for those who don’t know it is North London’s answer to Clapham and is anything but a barrio. A once vibrant, multicultural and artistic areas in 80’s / early 90’s London, by the noughties Islington (and Clapham) had descended into MOR, Starbuck loving blandness.
Yet both areas still have sprinklings of bars, cafes and restaurants that speak of a once fashionable past before the bankers and estate agents took control. And one such bar is Barrio North in Islington which proved such a hit with the few locals who weren’t pushing prams or sipping Soy Chai Lattes (young people in other words) that the owners decided to head to the big city lights and open a Soho version - Barrio Central.
Barrio Central sets out to celebrate all things Latino. The venue itself is split over two levels – at street level is a tightly packed café / restaurant serving a mix Latin and Caribbean dishes. Meanwhile at basement level is the bar / club area which is long and narrow, and looks like it has been decorated by someone for a dare. By that I mean there are big lashing of colours and kitsch here, which they pass off as being bright Caribbean hues. And the shocking lime green fake rock wall (yes really), mix and matched brown tiles, white picket fence, carnival lights and Hispanic memorabilia give the place a pop-up feel to it. This is a good thing because Barrio Central is certainly festive.
This spirit flows through to the punters who are your mix of fashionistas, advertising / design / PR agency crews, with your music and film set thrown in for good measure. In other words, Soho’s creative’s who swarm to the Barrio to drink and be merry, and without too much persuasion, break out into dance. And the latter is easily achieved by a thumping and eclectic DJ / soundtrack which includes everything from old school Beach Boys and Chuck Berry, through to 90’s hip-hop via the Wu Tang Clan, and every other pop or dance genre in between.
The drinks menu which is designed as a very cool seven-inch single cover consists of a generous smattering of New World red and white wines (Argentinean, Chilean, American and Spanish) and some interesting lagers amongst the usual suspects – Palma Cristal from Cuba, Quilmes from Argentina, and Alhambra Negra from Spain. There is also a massive selection of cocktails although most punters prefer to stick to the classic mojitos and margaritas. They certainly tickled the Northerner’s fancy on the night we were there.
The staff are laidback and charming in that Soho way, while still managing to be super-efficient. You don’t wait too long for drinks and the team all multi-task and manage their space effortlessly. I know it seems funny to compliment a bar for something which should come as standard, but take it from this barfly – it doesn’t.
Barrio Central is not perfect of course. It can be crowded, seating is at a premium, and it get’s hot. So hot in fact that you imagine that summer would be a challenge. But then again you are unlikely to bump into an estate agent, have to step over a stroller or see anyone sipping a frappuccino. I know where I’d choose to go.