Lascivious nods

Edinburgh

Rose Street played a small but memorable role in my younger life; what cultural commentators like to call a ‘rite of passage’.

For in a pub there – now, I hope and trust, long vanished – I witnessed my first and last stripper.

It was lunchtime, and my friend Andy decided this was the place to spend it. Not for want of alternatives – Rose Street had, I think, even more pubs then than it does now – but possibly because he’d spotted a seductive sign in the window, the promise of naked flesh with your pint.

And so we pushed open the old wooden door and quit the bright street for the dark, sparse, tobacco smoke scented den of iniquity. I recall a few solemn tables near the walls, and a few solemn men venerating their pints with more smoke, and – a surprise this, since I’d missed the sign in the window – one corner of the dark panelled room which was covered in mirror tiles. It called to mind a makeshift shower area built for a narcissist. “There’s a stripper,” said Andy.

As we moved towards the bar, monitored without interest by some of the solemn men, Andy nudged me. I glanced at his lasciviously grinning face – he really was much more enthusiastic and confident about all this than I was – he nodded towards Mirror Corner: “Look at the tiles on the left there.”

My eyes, slowly becoming accustomed to the gloom, studied the mirror and saw nothing of note until suddenly the impression left by a pair of oiled breasts sprung out at me. I can’t deny a thrill of excitement; teenaged obsession with the female breast was strong in me. Andy broke my reverie, handing me a pint. The lascivious nod again, toward the bar’s end.

I followed his gaze to where a heavily made up woman with dark curly hair stood, a shawl draped casually over her nakedness, drinking a pint. The man next to her had an arm resting lewdly across her shoulders.

I felt no attraction to her – she probably seemed from another planet – but will admit to a strong curiosity. Some music started. She stepped up on to the small raised platform in Mirror Corner and, in an utterly disinterested way, removed her shawl and her g-string over the next two minutes. She then stepped off the platform, finished her pint, and, still naked, walked around the room waving the empty glass at the solemn men, some of whom put money in it. Andy and I were among them.


Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you some lies

£5.00

Basecamp

Amsterdam

Thirty five years – I counted them – since the last time I sat in the Old Sailor in Amsterdam. It was basecamp for about a week back then.

I sought the place out as I wandered about the city today, thinking of a glass of beer and a jenever. The old adage applies though: never go back. The place is a shithole.

It’s very possible that it always was; my twenty year old self probably wouldn’t have cared. But the line of English drunks outside vomiting abuse at passers by was certainly new, as were the large football bearing screens glimpsed through the windows. Keep walking.

Favourite bars always change over time, it’s a law, and we’re forced out into the cold to forage for new ones. Fortunately, this is Amsterdam; around the corner I found Café Fonteyn. At first sight it’s pleasing, busy but not heaving. The chill damp evening propels me towards the door, inside it’s warm, a gentle hum of conversation over only just audible music. Gemütlich. There’s a table free. Perfect. And I like the wallpaper.

I have a new home.

There are a few places I like, dotted around the place. Café Lisboa in Valencia, Le Select in Paris, El Glaciar in Barcelona, Witzli Poetzli in Antwerp… Even fewer where I like the wallpaper.

Who knows how many of them will still have a pulse if I ever visit them again.


Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you some lies

£5.00

A pub’s life

London

A cold afternoon in Soho and I have an hour.

A statement, not a question, but nonetheless there is an answer; and the answer is pub.

The age of the pub is over. Thousands are closing monthly, we’re told; and those that remain don’t feel like actual pubs. More like bars, cafes, restaurants.

And it’s our fault. My fault and yours. If we don’t go to our pubs they will close. A simple truth. One could blame the corporatization of pubs, big money’s simple desire for more and the dull conformity it nurtures, but the fact is that the attraction of a bottle of wine and Netflix is stronger than the desire to go out and drink in the company of strangers.

Or — god forbid — actually talk to them.

Inevitable, of course, that such a proud tradition should end. Society changes, influenced as it is by our apathy and unconcern, our misguided wantings. And thus pub dies.

And yet from my stool at the end of the bar, as I wallow in the warmth of a blended scotch, voices break through my self-grown keratin shell. Just ordinary conversation. Three men, standing, pints in hand, their dust covered clothing betraying a day spent reshaping the city, discuss women.

Their appearance may seem incongruous in all this neo-gothic Victorian mahogany, but here they are, doing what generations of young men before them have done: sharing a drink and idle chat after the day’s toil. This afternoon, at least, pub is alive and well.


Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you some lies

£5.00

Juicy

London

Cocktails do not consist of more than one part fruit juice. I’m sorry, but they simply don’t. If you’re sitting at a bar now and resting before you is a large glass containing pineapple juice, lumps of fruit impaled on a stick, some undefined crystals around the brim, a shot of tequila and, in all probability, a miniature paper parasol painted in gay colours by an underfed child in the developing world – then what you have is a mocktail.

Oh, and you probably have a straw too. You can throw that away right now.

I’m not saying fruit juices have no place in a cocktail; there are several examples of fine and distinguished libations for which juice is an essential – the Sidecar springs to mind – nor am I only a regressive old bastard who refuses to recognise change. I am a regressive old bastard, but not only that. I recognise the skill of a good barkeep, and enjoy sampling the fresh harvests of their imagination; they do great things on the Prairie Oyster theme at The Bar with No Name in Islington, for instance.

But ultimately the old bastard in me comes to the surface, and I’ve never found a new cocktail to compare with a properly made Negroni, Pink Gin, Old Fashioned, French 75 or of course the one true king, the cock in cocktail: the Dry Martini.

I won’t linger here, because the question of how to make a good Dry Martini has no simple answer and I suspect I’ll be returning to this subject in future. Ad nauseam. Suffice to say that being delivered in a triangular profiled glass does not mean your drink is any form of Martini whatsoever.

But if your Martini anxiety is getting the better of you, have Tom Lehrer‘s recipe as a primer: six parts gin to one part vermouth. And never, ever, on pain of being forced to listen to Guns’n’Roses in perpetuity, shake it.


Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you some lies

£5.00