Friday, 30 December 2011

Recession? What Recession? Rise, You New Bars Of London

By Josh Williams

2011 hasn't exactly offered much to celebrate. With the exception of the enormous world-wide excitement at the marriage of WillzandKate (I bought a mug with their faces on it, and I hope you did too), this has been the year that lots of things, across the globe, went tits-up. Most recently, of course, the Greeks have buggered everything up in a manner that no-one entirely understands, and this has in turn paved the way for the Eurozone to collapse like an old flan in a forgotten cupboard.

 Britain's response - to begin the construction of a giant wall surrounding the nation and to mail all of our E111s back to Brussels - has divided opinion. It has even pitted our two glorious leaders, Cameron and Clegg, against one another in a style somewhat reminiscent of Stalin and Trotsky after the death of Lenin. These days, I believe that we are all relatively confident that we will spend some portion of our future-lives in a Gulag, and that we might one day find Nick Clogsky somewhere in Mexico with an ice-pick in his head.

In light of this grim prognosis, one might well expect the bars and restaurants of London, the capital of Europe's newest 'sick-man', to be preparing for their impending doom. New launches in particular must surely be readying themselves for this climate, rapidly hemorrhaging quality and price so that they can still attract a market rapidly turning to the delights of a tinny on a park bench.

Well, actually no. Instead of bowing to public pressure, there has been a new wave of launches at the end of this year displaying flagrant disregard for the nation's parlous state. These are a new generation of recession-beaters, and they have decided that high-on-price and high-on-quality joints are the way forward.

The recently opened bars The Lucky Pig and The Rose, for instance, are two examples of this David Irvine-like lust for denial. When The Lucky Pig boasts of its “tables suspended from the ceiling” and “exceptional glassware”, for example, it's enough to draw one's memory back to a time when sitting on a table with legs was considered passé, and when people actually cared about what they were drinking out of. The Rose, meanwhile, opts for an alternative trip down Memory Lane. They pair fine-drinking with exceptional snobbery and rudeness, and thus transport us back to a time when a review that declared, “if you like pretentious overrated places and rude staff, then come here,” was pretty decent press.

However, it was at Reunion, The Grosvenor Hotel's new cocktail bar, that I found denial at its most all-encompassing and, ultimately, at it's most rewarding. Here, the emphasis is on the very highest standards, and pre-recession pricing (a drink here might cost you in the region of ten tinnies, yet more if you tend to take the plunge to Special Brew). Yet it is by the benchmark of exceptional quality that Reunion has set its exacting standards, and with considerable success.

The cocktails here are frankly wonderful, combining interesting and often highly-original flavours (they even infuse their own spirits, these clever fellows); and it must be mentioned that their rum cocktails - the 'Dark & Stormy' and a superb Mojito in particular - are surely amongst the best in the city. Moreover, cocktails are paired by a good range of wines, and, for those in a truly shocking state of denial, Champagnes too.
The bar itself takes the theme of denial yet further, utterly ridding itself of its association with our bleak present. The decor, for instance, is an homage – and a good one – to the venue's former existence as the First-Class lounge for the Brighton Belle: the train that used to deliver boozy thesps from the West End to their oh-so-Boho dwellings in Brighton. A painting of former-regulars Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh adorns one wall, for instance, with the clear intent of baffling inebriated revellers into a belief that they might themselves be one-half of some 1950s power-couple. Even the fact that Vivien Leigh has been rendered half-way between Audrey Hepburn and an ape-woman (apparently depicting the missing link between our primordial past and Hollywood superstardom) cannot disrupt the elaborate facade.

An interesting final feature about Reunion, well worth a mention, is that it looks out, rather incongruously, over the concourse at Victoria Station. The effect is quite brilliant, as from here one can sip an exquisite cocktail and view reality below, musing that unlike them, you're not from the bloody-bleak twenty-first century at all, you're Larry Olivier, and you've just been treading the crap out of some West End boards.

Sadly, no deception lasts forever. Ultimately we must all return to the concourse below, and, once there, struggle vainly to even glimpse the lights of The Grosvenor above. This return to earth might lead one to question one's very sanity, wondering whether that formerly held sense of triumphal superiority was nothing but a boozy mirage, the product solely of a couple of expensive drinks and some nostalgic décor. Such fears will eventually pass, however, and I was ultimately left with a more lasting impression, and one that boiled down to the final half-thought that I boozily scrawled on the back of The Evening Standard when travelling home:

'Denial's great,' I wrote, 'especially when it comes in the form of a bloody lovely cocktail.'

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