Let’s get this straight. This is not a pub. I mean, you can get beer here, but that’s where the similarity ends. I’d say it was a bar, but it’s lacking one vital ingredient for that; to wit, a bar. It could pass for a restaurant in that it sells food and has menus, but eating doesn’t appear compulsory. Quite what it is, after a good 15 minutes in this place, is puzzling me.
Spiritland seems appropriately placed for a venue that, on the surface at least, is pretty ambiguous. That it is situated in a row of railway arches that houses everything from Indian eateries to architectural consultants adds to the intrigue. In the distance and through the arched windows of a hollowed-out skeleton of a building, you can see luxury flats being built into the side of a gasometer. The entire area is one great big sprawling incongruous mass of new and old butting up against each other and throwing up a sometimes alarming lack of clarity. It’s therefore fitting Spiritland initially offers very few clues as to what its purpose really is.
Confusion hits you the minute you walk through the door. That and the crystal clear sound that wafts effortlessly out of the soundsystem like a butterfly buffeted on the breeze. Untold thousands have obviously been lavished on this and that’s the point; the key, if you will. It’s a purely uneducated guess, but more looks to have been spent on that than anything else here. Which is saying something, as this former railway arch is practically unrecognisable as such. Fairly dark solid wood, pricey looking metal and apparently Scandinavian lighting feature strongly. There’s an awful lot of ducting on display too, which is either de rigeur or straight out of the late 1990s depending on your outlook. In contrast to the strange, disorienting feeling you get when crossing the threshold, everything seems perfectly placed, as if arranged by someone with acute OCD and an unnerving attention to detail. There are vinyl records for sale; neatly stacked of course. Old, high-end audio equipment nestles in display cabinets. Well-dressed people sashay around looking for all the world like they don’t work here, yet they do.
One of these kindly helps me out of my intense state of bewilderment, ushering me to a table and presenting me with a menu. A menu. Fortunately, there is quality here too. Sure, it comes at a price, but what do you expect? This is not the place for firing down pints of industrial lager in the pursuit of oblivion. And fit-outs like this don’t come cheap. What you do get is the chance to sip well-chosen booze in a carefully thought-out venue designed with listening in mind. And if you’re a fan of great music piped through the highest-end system you are likely to have encountered in a public place, this is the space for you.
An album of the day sits proudly at the DJ cab. Selectors are programmed to play seven days a week. You can buy audio equipment here. And books. Books about music, obviously. And vinyl records. Did I already mention the records? There’s even a space-age looking record cleaner at DJs’ disposal that is said to lift dust and debris from vinyl grooves using the power of voodoo. Or, more accurately, ultrasound fired through distilled water so as not to damage the vinyl. This is next-level stuff to the power nerd, done in a reassuringly charming way that you can’t help but admire.
As a pub, it won’t offer what many punters are after. And as we established earlier, it is not really a pub. Though as a drinking venue, this may be what the future holds: specialist, niche, an oddity. Catering for a particular interest. Not one for the hardened drinker, maybe. But audiophiles will want to spend as long as they can here, warmed by the sweet, crisp, tube-driven depth of outrageously pure sound.