Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Katzenjammer Club, 19th October

Do you want the good news or the bad news? Well, tough. I'm starting with the good news.

Which is that the launch night of the Katzenjammer Club was a huge success and a really good evening. I enjoyed all of the acts I saw - they were top quality and if this becomes a regular night (and I hear that it will) then it will be a worthy addition to the cabaret scene. I even enjoyed the catwalk of latexwear put on and I'm not remotely into fashion. As with normal catwalk styles, I wouldn't wear any of it in real life, but it did look interesting and beautiful on the models.

The delicious Dusty Limits was the consummate host tying the night together and providing some of the entertainment as well. (Perhaps a little too much - I would probably have preferred another act over Dusty singing again, though I did enjoy his version of Space Oddity, with everyone joining in the claps with gusto).

I hadn't seen Florian Brooks before and didn't know what to expect from his act. He first came on and enchanted us with a 'simple' dance with his cane and hat, moving fluidly around the stage, balancing each with almost perfection. His second foray was a juggling act which was just as entertaining. It seems almost unbelievable with the number of cabaret and circus type events I've been to but juggling has never featured before. When it's done this well - it should!

I also really enjoyed one half of the Gorey Cabinet, Mr Pustra, doing a Klaus Nomi 'impression' with a massive latex tuxedo on (which I believe was similar to if not the same as one worn by Nomi). I knew nothing about Klaus Nomi, I can only say that as a performance it was impressive and I would like to see more. 

The absolute best bit of the night, however, must be credited to the Roustabouts DJ Mark R. Charade because the music was the star of the show. Everyone agreed they absolutely loved the mashups of 80s (and earlier) electro and new romanticism with modern pop. Blondie was mashed with the Stranglers. David Bowie was mashed with the Pussycat Dolls. Justin Timberlake featured. It was an infectious combination that really made you want to dance. And, as the night wore on, everyone certainly did! The music segued from the darker 80s stuff to mostly contemporary, more poppy crowd-pleasing songs that went down a treat with everyone on the dance floor. People only stopped dancing when they were forced to by the club shutting. I think, that had the layout been a bit different, that the dancing would have started much sooner, in between performances. As it was stools and chairs took up much of the dance floor area while the performances were taking place.

Which brings me to 'the bad news' - the venue itself. Actually, that is misleading. The venue did suit the evening, being in Central London in a building linked to the glamorous Centre Point, a members bar felt right for the event. However, it was quite small and the layout was all wrong. I missed at least two of the acts, simply because I couldn't see them.  Luckily I had seen the Ungewinster perform before but I was gutted that all I could see of the Gorey Cabinet's act was some red balloons every now and again. If you wanted to see anything, you had to find a spot while everyone else went to the bar and then stay there. I did this for some of the acts but I also wanted to explore (and get a drink) and thus ended up not seeing some of the show. The area immediately before the stage was given over to sofas and stools (some of which had been reserved) so for most people it was standing room only. Except that most of this standing room was to the side of the stage so if you weren't in the first row, you couldn't really see anything. I don't mind standing if I'm not early enough to get a seat, but if I've paid for a show which has performances, I think I should be able to see those performances at the very least! The room itself is rather narrow so there is probably not a huge amount that could be done, except for maybe doing away with any seating at all. This would at least encourage people to dance between performances (which we were dying to do anyway)! 

As a launch night it was great, no real teething problems apart from the viewing issue, which they might be able to improve in future. Apartment 58 had never played host to a night like this before so there were bound to be some things to iron out. I think the Roustabouts deserve a big conratulations for coming up with something fun and different in the cabaret world. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hoxley and Porter, 18th October

On occasion me and my friends like to play at being adults by doing the whole 'Come Dine With Me' thing, which is how you must refer to throwing dinner parties since its advent.

It was my friend who lives in Highbury's turn so to give her some time to prep after work, Stephen and I went for an 'aperitif' at Hoxley and Porter which I had been hearing so much about.

I can't remember what was there before, either because it was a pretty forgettable place to begin with or possible because what H & P have done with the place is so stunning it has obliterated any memory of its former guise.

The room is gorgeous - you walk down a long corridor to get in, giving you a chance to admire the dining area and then you basically walk into the set of Murder on the Orient Express crossed with Death on the Nile (without the murders), or at least that is what I was it felt like to me. It was definitely reminiscent of a grand train carriage and the decor and foliage were all very exotic 20-40s. There should have been girls slinking about with cigarettes in holders and if they don't host a 20s night they are missing a trick.

We had a seat by the bar and while Stephen finished his wine, I perused the menu and started to order something rum based with honey and bubbly. The bartender, however, had other ideas, assuring me that they had better cocktails if I wanted bubbles. Well, who am I to argue with the expert? I had a belize bellini which was very nice. Obviously I can't say if it was better than the one I originally wanted, as I didn't have it.

Sitting at the bar totally paid off as we got to chat to the bartender a bit and see what he was creating for the other people at the bar. The couple next to us had an amazing concoction that looked like a trifle in a glass and apparently tasted like boozy cake. And it had red wine in it! Must see if I can try that next time. We were also treated to a sample of their housemade falernum - a lightly spiced lime syrup that reminded Stephen and I of lebkuchen, those German spiced cookies. The combination of flavours tasted better in drink than in biscuit form. 

The cocktail menu is short, but they're really happy to make anything off menu if you give them an idea of what you like, including, of course, the classics. For my second cocktail I had an old fashioned, again, at their recommendation. They told me it was made with 'awesomeness' so I couldn't refuse. They make theirs with 12 year old El Dorado rum instead of whiskey and let me try the rum before I agreed to try their kerazy take on the old fashioned. I like rum but I wouldn't pretend to be an aficionado. However, it was definitely quite a sweet rum and it definitely had notes of coffee. It is so naturally sweet in fact, that H & P only use half a teaspoon of white sugar (not the more intense darker stuff). I could have easily sipped it neat.

Stephen went for the Baron's Tipple which was a fruity little number of overproof rum, lime, apricot jam and guava juice. You might think all this fruitiness would leave you with an overly sweet cocktail but it wasn't at all. It didn't exactly wow us either, but it was still pleasantly sippable.  

Even if I hadn't liked the cocktails I think I would be tempted to go back simply for the setting, but the fact that the staff were ever so friendly and that the cocktails were made with care and attention means a second trip has already been lined up for a few weeks' time. I might sample the food they have on offer next time as well - both bar menu and a la carte had some very tasty-sounding options!

Square Meal

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

10 Cases, 15th October

10 Cases (as you probably know already because it has been open ages now) takes its name from the fact that it only ever buys 10 cases of each wine. So if you come across one you like, you have to return pretty smartish to get a second taste. Quite a clever way to encourage return business - because also, they will have new wines for you to try all the time!

It describes itself as a small bistrot and small indeed it is. There are a few spaces by the bar to sit and then space for about 30 diners at most. There was a lot of scooching around and that sort of ballet you do when two of you are trying to get out of each other's way, if anyone ever got up to go to the bathroom. But it's very cute and this lack of space if completely forgivable.

The wine was absolutely the star of the show. It's by no means cheap but I would say, based on the bottle we had that it is worth it if you happen to feel flush that day. We got a riesling blend combining pinot gris, muscat and, gewurztraminer called Domaine Pfister Cuvee 8. It was delicious. It might sound strange to say so, but it had a texture to it. My friend remarked that it was sweet on the tongue at first but that then melted away leaving a light, drier touch. It was silky smooth to drink, almost a little buttery. It was hard to make it last the whole meal but at £40 we felt we had to!

The food was perfectly good as well and I'd happily eat there again, but it did feel like it took a backseat to the wine. I really enjoyed my courgette fritters which came with a light, fresh tomato salsa with olive oil. Alison had the soft shell crab to start with avocado salad. I cannot comment on the crab as I didn't have any but the avocado was welcome as always.

My pork belly was nice but I think it could have been cooked for longer and the crackling crackled up a bit more. Sometimes it was a little chewy and the fat hadn't rendered down as much as I'd like. The mashed potato and slow cooked red cabbage were absolutely delicious though.

Alison had the steak. We enquired about how it would be cooked and she opted for medium rare, with the waitress saying the chef would be happy to chuck it back on the grill if it was too blue. (Our waitress by the way, was ever so friendly and affectionate - oh yes, she wasn't above a little human contact!) The steak came with some well executed chips and I DID have a bite of the steak which had a nice slightly charred flavour. Alison got through two-thirds of it and then realised that actually, it was a bit too underdone for her. However, we both felt that the window of opportunity for requesting further cooking had passed, being that she had eaten the rest of her dish and all they would have been putting on the grill was a few mouthfuls! The chips that came with the steak were excellent. 

Alas, we didn't end up having dessert, instead going across to the Cross Keys for another glass of wine, which we knew would taste like acid in our mouths compared to what we had just samples. It did. But the Cross Keys was a very cool little pub and I would go back there probably before treating my taste buds to such delectable wine, rather than after.

The 10 Cases on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ukebox, 13th October

Since running my Meetup group for Alternative Nightlife, lots of my friends give me suggestions for things we might like to do. One of these was to go to the Amersham Arms on a Sunday for 'Ukebox'. The premise is simple - you are given a list of songs, you choose the one you want, shout it out and the Brockley Ukulele Group plays them - on their ukuleles. Like a living, ukulele jukebox (hence the name).

It sounded like it could be a laugh and a good way to banish the Sunday blues and it turned out to be even better at doing this than any of us had imagined.

One of the girls from the group came into the pub to hand out the songsheet 'menu' beforehand so you could get an idea of what to request once you went into the back room. And it functioned pretty much as described, except that I had expected purely instrumental versions of the songs and in fact, they sang them all, and sang them very well! I say 'sang'; some of the songs on offer included things like Gangsta's Paradise which requires a certain level of rapping skill. This was left to Alfred to attempt and he pulled it off with aplomb. In fact, the more modern 'urban' songs were the most entertaining as it gave the Brockley group carte blanche to ham it up a little bit and bring some humour into the proceedings, (by giving each gangsta phrase a plummy English overture for example), rather than just a straight reimagining for the ukulele. 

I quite enjoyed the audience participation of shouting out the requests as well. At the start there was the usual British reserve and hesitation, but as time ticked by you realised you had to pipe up if you wanted to hear your desired song as people were getting very quick off the mark to shout a request as soon as a song was over. At several points, song numbers were called out almost simultaneously and the group had a bit of a backlog to work through in order.

Every now and then they would take a break from the jukebox element and play 'one of their own' which meant a song they had been working on that wasn't on the list. They performed In the Backseat by Arcade Fire, for example, which was sung absolutely beautifully by Liz. People were so rapt for this stripped back version you could have heard a pin drop.

Honestly, this was such a fun evening - we all delighted in hearing how they would interpret each of the songs for the ukulele and they never disappointed. Gangsta's Paradise and Hey Ya! were definitely worthy of a mention, and I was extra pleased they did Me Gustas Tu, a song I've loved since I lived in France. I was really impressed by the range of their repertoire, taking in TV theme tunes (Rawhide - my request), pop (Baby One More Time), indie (Debaser) and everything in between. They also have a few 'mashups', like the Supergrass/David Bowie one combining Pumping on Your Stereo and Rebel Rebel, that work really well. And even though ukuleles are the main instrument, they had several additional instruments for special sound effects that added another playful dimension (take a listen to an excerpt from Sh'Boom below).

There were 60-odd songs to choose from and we probably got through about half of them in the two and a half hours that the Brockley Uke Group were playing. And if that were not enough, you are invited to write suggestions for future songs on the back. I didn't have a pen or pencil with me so if I may assume they're reading this, may I be so bold as to suggest Enter Sandman by Metallica?

It was a rollicking good evening! And I believe I haven't even mentioned that it was free! You couldn't ask for more really. We all had massive smiles on our faces listening to each song and my group were all agreed that we're likely to return. Listen to an excerpt of 'Sh'boom' below. 

Being a Sunday, the Amersham was 'quiet' (there was only one other couple there who weren't watching the Ukebox) so it's hard to get an idea of what it's like on a normal pub day, but they have lots going on and are in cahoots with the Lock Tavern so I can imagine it's quite a good pub to frequent if you're in the area, often putting on offbeat acts and live music.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Crossfire, 12th October

I'm becoming quite the old hand at these Northern Soul nights (read: I've been to two before this one) and have a reasonable idea of what to expect. Namely lots and lots of people who clearly live and breathe the scene, and some great music, none of which I recognise.

Crossfire on Saturday fit this bill a treat but with the exception of it being on a much larger scale. Run by the same people who do Mousetrap (the New Untouchables) this was an EVENT. Held only twice a year, this all nighter which went from 10pm until 6 am spread across three rooms. One was garage, one was RnB and one was - well, I forget and it didn't make much difference to me as I'm not expert enough to have been able to discern the differences in each room. One of them also had a live band which seemed fairly decent and was drawing quite a crowd - so we went somewhere there was more room to dance! I'd never heard of 229 The Venue before hearing about Crossfire but it's a pretty large venue in the middle of London (by Great Portland Street) and they seem to have live music of retro-type events on every day of the week. Inside it's not particularly glamorous but it has the key features you need from a dance club - a bar and a dance floor. 

Everyone apart from my motley crew was dressed to the nines in their best mod gear. We went to the Albany for a drink beforehand and it wasn't difficult to spot which people we'd be seeing again over the road with all the Paul Wella-esque haircuts, beehives and turned up trousers revealing brightly-coloured socks underneath. 

Given the number of people who are clearly quite serious about the Northern Soul lifestyle, there's no attitude and we all felt perfectly comfortable being there. That might have been different had we eschewed the clearly printed rule stating 'No Drinks on the Dance Floor'. Because of course, the people are here for the music and to dance to that music. It's a serious business - the floor is sprinkled with talc to ensure maximum gliding ability for all the shuffle footwork that takes place. A spilled drink would ruin the effect.

There were some quite amazing moves happening on the dance floor and once again, almost everyone seemed to have that combination of moving like you're completely absorbed in the music but still looking completely authentic down pat. I wondered again if such swaying and shuffling requires much practice, or if people are so enthralled to the spirit of the 60s, it just comes naturally to them. 

My feet had started hurting before I even got into the club so I didn't do as much dancing as I would have liked, and I must admit, I would have preferred it if I recognised some more tunes. Having said that, apparently the number of Northern Soul records in existence is very small so if I keep going to these nights I will become more and more familiar with them and potentially rack up some 'favourites' in my mind. In the meantime it's just enjoyable feeling like you have stepped back in time. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Imaginarium, 28th September

A couple of Saturdays ago was my first time at an Imaginarium party but if they're always like the one I went to, it surely won't be my last. It was such a fun, friendly and inclusive party to be at! Imaginarium describes itself as a fetish party from outer rave space and is another one where dressing up is strongly encouraged but they're a bit more relaxed about the dress code. They want you to look good but it's not a competition and you won't be judged on how far you've gone. They realise that some costumes can cost a fortune, or that people who are interested in coming might not have the confidence to wear very extreme outfits. 

I probably fit into the former category - after spending a lot of time and effort thinking about what to wear to Torture Garden a couple of weeks before, an outfit for Imaginarium was a bit of an afterthought and I had to throw something together from what I had. My outfit had a tenuous relation to the Japanese theme at best but I still felt like I somewhat looked the part once we got there. Some of the outfits were absolutely stunning but only official photographers were allowed to take pictures so you will have to check out their Facebook page for those. 

The night was held at Union, normally a gay club in the gay clubbing mecca that is Vauxhall. Nowhere was this more evident than in the 'Red Light Deck' play room upstairs where there were several cubicles with real-life gloryholes in them! But I digress.

We got there at a little before 12 and after getting a drink had a wander. There were only two rooms - the front was purely for dancing, and the back, which opened at midnight was for more dancing but also had some performers as well. I think I missed most of these apart from some light-sabre type baton twirling and some glo-poi work, so engrossed was I elsewhere. Even with six hours to play with, the time seemed to fly by too quickly to do and see everything!

In keeping with the Japanese theme, quite a few of my friends were delighted to see they had installed some old-style video games for guests' delight. Much as I appreciated that, I have never been any good at video games so didn't get involved. 

Upstairs was the place to go if you were into getting dirty. When we first wandered up there, there was nothing going on, but once the place got into full swing (pun intended) it was a hive of activity. Threesomes, bondage, domination - it all seemed to happen at one point or another, and many were very happy to welcome participants into the mix, or at the very least have a chat to curious parties.

If you wanted a little more privacy then the cubicles did have doors on them and no one would take offense at not being included.

I had an absolute blast (and may have fulfilled some 'things to do' you won't find on this List!) and I thank the organisers and other guests for making it such a good night. I also really enjoyed going to a slightly smaller venue for once. It meant you bumped into the same people time and again and naturally fell into conversation with them. At the end of the night you were wishing people well as if you'd known them months not hours. And the music was a great mix of upbeat house and drum and bass that went on to the very last minute (6 am). Even the DJ was going for it on the dance floor right at the end.

If I had to make one clubnight in this vein (mix of dancing and kink) my night of choice and foresake all others then so far, Imaginarium so far would be it!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Portside Parlour and The Dolphin, 27th September

Friday night was a very special night. My friend Alison and I celebrated the fact that we have known each other for 20 years now. We have a reputation for cramming a lot in on a night out and we surpassed ourselves this night, but I won't go into too much detail on every place we went as a lot of them weren't on my List. Only Portside Parlour and The Dolphin made it onto that.

First a quick cocktail in the Covent Garden Cocktail club as part of the Chambord Challenge. It was incredibly lively in there and the bartenders had a certain flair with fire. Consdering we were in there at 6:30 and the atmosphere was in full party mode I'm sure this would be a good place to come for a longer night out.

We then went to get another free cocktail at the Salon bar in L'Atelier by Joel de Robuchon. This was the spectral opposite of CGCC - sleek, smooth, high end. We had complimentary olives and met Mr Robuchon himself on the way out. Another cocktail place to impress a date.

And then, because we're not total heathens, we had something to eat at Vasco & Piero's Pavilion. This was my second time there and Alison's third or fourth. We split a creamy burrata and a tangy tuna sashimi to start (weirdly they went quite well together on the plate) and then I had a buttery, rich, lamb tortelloni with rosemary and Alison had the prawn spaghettini. Tempting as dessert sounded, with half a bottle of red with our meal, and, delightfully, a glass of prosecco on the house (did they know it was a special occasion) we felt too full to eat any more. 

Vasco & Piero's Pavilion on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

And so, we headed East. Northeast to Hackney where we managed to get into Portside Parlour before it shut. 

Portside Parlour

I had thought it stayed open until 2 but when we got there at about midnight, we were told they were taking last orders. So we did have time for just the one cocktail (even though I'd been hoping to have more) in there before moving on, and I think this was my favourite of the night. They have a fairly small but well-crafted selection of cocktails. Portside is a rum parlour so that features heavily - the first page is all rum-based cocktails, but on the second they cater to rum unenthusiasts. My cocktail, the Aged El Presidente, described as 'rounded and boozy' was pretty much all alcohol, but with enough of a fragrance to be drinkable. Alison's was bourbon based and fruitier with basil. Beyond that we cannot remember and I'm blaming it on the strength of those cocktails. The venue itself was very cool. If you didn't know it was there, you would never suspect, but I did and so with determination we made our way through the crowds in Off Broadway to the very back where there was a sign pointing you down the stairs. Had the door been shut down there, even then you might not have been certain you were going to a bar, as the door makes it look like it's just another toilet. If you go through that though you enter a bijou little den of drinking, with candlelight and a musky illicit aroma. Just my kind of place.

Square Meal

After this we went to the Cat and Mutton for a drink before they also called last orders and then went round to the London Fields for another before it seemed late enough to be appropriate to go to the Dolphin.

The Dolphin

If you've been adding things up you'll probably guess that we'd had a few by now, but in the immortal words of the Dolphin's faux twitter account 'Fuck it, it's Friday!'. But it did mean our time in the Dolphin isn't exactly crystal clear in my mind. What I do remember though is that we had an excellent time. I had been there on a Tuesday or something for a drink before Buen Ayre, but rather suspected this was not the best way to experience the Dolphin. After the recent announcement that they may lose their late-night license (a travesty - they're appealing the decision) I thought I'd better get there 'toot sweet' to see this bastion of revelry for myself. Either it is always that busy (possible) or a lot of other people had the same idea for it was packed. We made our way from the little cash bar and courtyard sort of area to the main bar area I'd been in before, where we almost instantly made friends with some guys who lived nearby. What can I say, it's a friendly place. I think it was at about 5 am that they started kicking everyone out, but not before one last R Kelly song. By all accounts, talking to strangers and dancing to R Kelly is exactly what the Dolphin is all about so I think we did the place justice, even if we didn't have any 'Forgot about Dre'- or indeed 'Independence Day'-gerbombs'. I really hope they can persuade the council to let them keep the late license - I will be really sad if that's my one and only experience of late-night Dolphin. #savethedolphin