***UPDATE – SOCIAL UNDER THREAT – www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-social FOR MORE DETAILS***
Not big enough, fairly ropey draft beer offering, woefully understaffed at peak ordering time and laid out in such a way as to conjure up images of a scruffy, dystopian diner rather than a London pub. While easy on the arse, the long, cushioned bench seats are arranged in just four square horseshoe shapes that dominate the restricted space. Only four groups of friends can sit here in any kind of comfort without rubbing shoulders with complete strangers.
It’s worse downstairs. More limited beer offerings, really quite dingy, configured so the bar might as well be in another building and caught between the seemingly conflicting stools of dancefloor and dining room. Worse, the fixed tables and benches are arranged so half those sitting at them can’t see what’s on the stage.
Throw in the prices – commensurate with its location – and you’ve got all the ingredients of a bar you should seriously consider crossing the street to avoid. But I love this place.
As soon as you set eyes on the stunning Pete Fowler frontispiece, you know you’re stepping into a world where individuality and creativity are welcomed and encouraged. A cast iron ledge runs the length of the corridor leading up to the bar and offers a handy drinks resting place for those who missed out on the seats. It makes a satisfyingly loud metallic clunk as you place a pint glass on it (a sound echoed by the booth tables inside).
At the far end of the corridor, there is a mirrored wall that affords you the chance to check your levels of dishevelment. Feint right through the door to the bar and there’s more Fowler artwork above the working jukebox that houses a repertoire of records unparalleled in the city centre. There is usually an exhibition of well-taken photographs decorating the wood panelling to provide recreational diversion for the eye. All these are fine qualities that go a long way to balancing out the downsides.
What I really love about this place is that it does things differently. Throughout the week, freelancers are offered a place to work, which includes IT support, for free. Save the odd Monday, there is usually something interesting and reasonably priced (or gratis) on in the basement – from literary evenings and poetry readings to frenetic gigs and film screenings.
The hand-drier in the gents works, though it’s one of those stupid Brexit fruitcake Dyson Airblade jobbies. Instead of whimpering out a pathetic breeze of lukewarm air, its powerful gusty blade blasts the water away in a queue-avoidingly brief few seconds. And for once – for a bar in Fitzrovia – the atmosphere doesn’t stink; rather it’s welcoming from the moment you get to the doorman. True, some of the bar staff can be a mite curt or blank-looking, but you can allow them that; they’re busy and they’ll get to you.
News reaches PCV Towers that this place is under threat from some corporate cock(tail) chain bar – just what the area needs. If you want to see one-offs like this survive, please consider donating to their crowdfunder campaign: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-social.