We don’t usually celebrate Valentine’s Day but this year we decided to push the boat out and head up town, inevitably we ended up on a massive pub crawl but we found some real gems that I thought I should share.
The first is The Angel in St Giles High St, spitting distance from Denmark St. it’s a labyrinthine Victorian ‘proper’ public house owned by Northern Brewers Sam Smith, with old fashioned bars including a saloon, a public and lounge bar. The drinks were relatively cheap for London, the staff were polite and the clientele were new media 30 somethings and students. Where we were sitting, the Google offices loomed outside the window – the future and the past standing shoulder to shoulder.
From here, we blundered to Soho, bustled past the closed gay clubs, onto Greek Street and past the Gay Hussar (apparently – according to a friend on Facebook – the only Hungarian restaurant in the UK).
We were looking for some Dim Sum and instead we found Jazz after Dark. Lured in by the kitsch black and white 80s signage, the plasma screen in the window with Stevie Wonder hunched over the keys, pouring his love into the microphone and the words Mojito written in massive letters on the door, we were ready for a special experience.
The bar was furnished (kind of) like a cross between a 1950s diner with round stools and tables and an 80’s social club. The walls were adorned with paintings and portraits, mostly of Amy Winehouse – it was like a shrine to her. There was the odd pic of infamous booze and heroin junky – Pete Dougherty, one or two of Kate Moss and even a self portrait of the artist with Kevin Spacey but mostly it was Amy, she appeared to be the artist’s muse.
After getting the mojitos in I wandered around checking out the pictures. Under some of the huge portraits of Amy in oil paint were photos of her singing, drinking, almost falling of bar stools and being propped up by a guy I will assume was her bodyguard. We reached the conclusion that she had drunk there a few times, after visiting the artist’s website, it appears she started drinking there at 18 and that he had watched her career progress from its very beginning.
I like a venue with personality, I’m not adverse to a little spit & sawdust and I’m not a big fan of chain venues and sprawling faceless bars so in this kooky little jazz club I felt quite at ease. My husband and I chatted away and admired what we thought was a copy of Monet’s Water lilies and Japanese Bridge until a slight, bald man appeared behind the bar, we recognised him, from his various self portraits as Sam Shaker (the artist himself) and decided to ask him about the painting, he said that it wasn’t a copy of a Monet but that he had been to the bridge and painted it himself.
Cue whimsical chats about travelling to Paris, visiting The Shakespeare & Co bookshop on the Seine where the beat writers used to hang out in the 60’s and taking a tour of Zola’s Parisian backstreets. As if by magic Edith Piaff’s version of Ne me quitte pas came on the stereo and I was in love with the place.
Sam told us that he wasn’t French, he was originally from Cairo but spent some time in Paris as an artist, we talked music Egypt and food and then decided to try the Tapas, skipping Amy’s favourite platter.
The food was from freezer to fryer to plate, nothing to write home about; calamari, dolmades, prawns in filo pasty and some very odd looking meatballs, nouveau cuisine it was not but it was great for soaking up the mojitos. With all the talk of the Beat writers in Paris our thoughts naturally turned to their tipple of choice, The Green Fairy or Absinthe as she is better known had been giving us the eye from the optics since we got there.
We spent a few minutes egging each other on and then decided to do one shot, the proper way, with sugar cubes over an absinthe spoon. Watching the sugar drip into the green liquid we looked at each other with a mixture of fear and intrepidation, we tipped the remaining sugar into the green liquid and put the glasses to our lips. It had been years since my last terrible Absinthe experience and I had completely forgotten that it tastes like aniseed and I hate aniseed. Needless to say, I didn’t drink much and I think that is probably a good thing!
We decided to move on to the next bar and wandered through Soho looking for another interesting place to drink. We came across Ronnie Scott’s, downstairs was full but they had some seating in the upstairs bar. For all the romantic stories of the world famous iconic jazz bar, it was a little sterile upstairs. The strawberry daiquiri was mind blowing and the pictures on the wall were fascinating, but it’s more of a place where you pass through and perhaps geared more towards the tourist market, nevertheless, I’d love to catch a show there one day.
After Ronnie Scott’s it all got a little hazy but we had a fab night. Thanks Soho and thanks especially to Jazz After Dark, definitely one to experience first hand!