By Alex Hawkes.
According to folklore (or some smart Alec marketing), Betsy Smith was born in the Victorian era and delighted the good people of Kilburn with her eccentricity and penchant for a decent cocktail. In homage of this, the opening of The Betsy Smith promised an old fashioned knees-up in a pub that has leapt straight out of the pages of The Chronicles of Narnia.Our adventure into the weird and wonderful world of Betsy Smith begins on a windy Friday night on Kilburn High Street, where we are confronted by two giants (the bouncers). After attracting their attention, they hand us each a single playing card – which, they inform us, will help in our quest to drink the magical cocktails.Eagerly we continue on our way, passing upside-down flamingoes and crooked stripey walls, only to face our next challenge – a long and winding maze (the queue to the bar). Taking countless wrong turns, we were very eventually greeted by some earnest-looking chimney sweepers (costumed bartenders). Holding our cards joyously in the air, we eagerly begin ordering from the phantasmagorical (their word not mine) cocktail menu, which proudly boasted all manners of childish delights mixed with alcohol (temptations included a chocolate button themed drink and cocktails served in tea pots).Yet the evening proved to have anything but a fairytale ending. The bartender – no Dick Van Dyke – rather impatiently pointed out that tonight only four of the simpler cocktails were available from the menu. While this was an understandable move given the huge crowds the bar’s opening night had attracted, the general chaos that ensued could have been prevented if the clever marketing had been supported by any shred of managerial nous.Instead, The Betsy Smith buckled under the weight of the masses – punters were perched on staircases, the live funk band was drowned out by the roaring crowd, and getting any form of beverage was as likely as entering Narnia through the novelty wardrobe seating area. Yes, the venue has gimmicks galore – hanging bird cages, rows of kitsch paintings and ornaments – and the staff looked spectacular in their full mock Victorian outfits, but by the end of the night The Betsy Smith simply felt like one torturous never-ending Mad Hatter’s tea party. Old Betsy must have been turning in her grave.