Rock Bars – London (The QH January 2013)

This piece was published in January 2013 in The QH (the student newspaper at The University of Westminster.)

Upon moving to London, you might think you’d encounter all manner of excellent places to enjoy a drink or six upon a Friday evening (or a Tuesday for that matter) and you’d be right. Places to while away many hours in a drunken stupor with friends are indeed plentiful. However, when you want to break away from the relentless monotony of the chain bars and clubs and find somewhere that caters to a more alternative taste, things become a little trickier. Here’s my guide to four of the best.

Urban Bar – Whitechapel

Tucked away in Jack the Ripper’s fabled hunting ground, Urban Bar is not somewhere you’re likely to stumble across unless you happen to be looking for it. From the outside it looks fairly unassuming due to its plain frontage and a row of standard issue picnic tables placed outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking its undergoing renovation work. It’s not and it’s well and truly open; do yourself a favour and go inside. You’ll be greeted with a strange mix of interior design of the ilk not seen since Lawrence Llwellyn-Bowen last graced our screens on ‘Changing Rooms’. It works though, and the blend of wild-west cow print throws and dark woodwork and leather with a vaguely Moroccan colour scheme instantly creates an atmosphere of welcoming exclusivity.

Approach the bar and you’ll be greeted by well-mannered and friendly staff who actually seem to care about you as a customer; something sadly missing from the majority of bars and clubs. The selection of drinks on offer is excellent too, with several bottled lagers and spirits and a decent selection of wine on offer. Prices are reasonable too, as an example you can expect to pay around £3.70 for a 330ml bottle of Peroni. There’s a £5 minimum debit or credit card transaction, but that’s to be expected.

Something to note about Urban Bar is the jukebox; the selection of tracks available is staggering. A quick scan through the choices available seemed to cover just about every genre you can think of, with all key tracks and albums from at least the last decade in place. In some cases entire back catalogues are present too. Fancy deafening everybody in there with ‘Aggressive Perfector’, closing track from Slayer’s seminal ‘Reign In Blood’? No problem. Welsh raggapunkmetalhiphop more your thing? No problem, there’s a huge selection of Skindred track on there too. And for later in the evening when you’ve all had a bit too much to drink, yes, ‘Gangham Style’ is on there too.

This eclecticism extends beyond the décor and music; the multiplicity of events on offer includes two free weekly salsa classes (on a Tuesday and Wednesday), comedy nights, themed quizzes, open mic nights and regular live music gigs and dance music nights. You can even go there for your Sunday roast! There truly is something for everybody on offer here.

For more details of their upcoming events you can find Urban Bar on Facebook.

Nearest Tube: Whitechapel (District Line)

Bus Stop: Whitechapel Station (I’d advise getting the 25 which runs almost parallel with the Central Line and runs from Ilford to Oxford Circus 24 hours)

The Intrepid Fox – Tottenham Court Road

The Intrepid Fox lies at the end of Denmark Street in Soho lies an oasis; the perfect antithesis to the trendy. The inside of The Intrepid Fox has to be seen to be believed. All manner of rock and roll bric-a-brac is strewn all over the walls; skeletal spiders hang from camouflage netting and bonnets of cars stick out of the walls. The staff resemble extras from a Motley Crue video; no bad thing, of course. A live DJ is present at the weekends here too and they are more than happy to take requests; with a decent percentage of them being played. They don’t seem to fall into the trap that a large percentage of rock bars and clubs seem to of playing the same stuff night in, night out either; in my book, a colossal plus.

Drinks are plentiful although the selection on offer isn’t massive. There’s a selection of standard issue beers and ciders, and a reasonable range of spirits. If you’re partial to a bit of wormwood induced amnesia, they sell Absinthe. Whether or not this is a good thing I’ll leave up to you.  Price wise it’s around average, expect to pay about £4 for a pint of lager or a bottle of Koppaberg.

The Intrepid Fox is possibly not a place to head if you want a quiet drink in a relaxing atmosphere; or for that matter if you don’t have a strong stomach. This is down in no small part to the toilets. They’re vile. Like Satan himself has been at work they absolutely reek of stale urine and all manner of other substances that I won’t go into. I’m informed the ladies facilities are no better either. This is an issue which seems to be worryingly commonplace; and it’s something that venues need to sort.

The Fox also runs a fairly regular schedule of live gigs covering all sorts of subgenres of guitar fuelled mayhem; find them on Facebook for the latest listings.

Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road (Central Line)

Nearest Bus Stop: Tottenham Court Road Station (well served by most bus routes through the centre)

Crobar (Tottenham Court Road)

Within spitting distance of The Intrepid Fox, the shoebox sized Crobar lies down a side street just off Charing Cross Road. The bar area by the main entrance is miniscule, with the bar and a small seating area dominating the floorspace. Head beyond the bar and the space opens up, if only slightly, to a small dancefloor area ringed by tables and benches. Whilst this improves matters slightly, if you don’t like crowds, Crobar isn’t for you.

As with Urban Bar, the jukebox in Crobar is truly spectacular. Although there’s an inevitable bias towards all things rock and metal, the selection of tunes on offer here is nonetheless impressive. Staff are friendly; and will talk you through drink prices and deals. Beer is on offer but it’s strictly by the bottle, and prices are again around average. £3.75 gets you a bottle of Heineken. A recommendation;  try the house whisky. It’s as good as the name brands and a good deal cheaper too. It is worth mentioning here however that Crobar increase prices by around £2 a drink on Friday and Saturday nights, so if your student loan is beginning to dry up this is one to avoid at weekends. Another thing to note is it’s worth getting here early, not only to beat the masses but after 11pm there’s a modest door charge of £2.

Again here unfortunately the state of the toilets have to be mentioned. They are almost as bad as The Intrepid Fox, with standing water and god knows what all over the floor. One small plus is that your nostrils will be spared as they don’t seem to smell as vile as some other establishments.

Crobar is ideally sited as it’s virtually next door to The Borderline, so it makes the ideal precursor to a night in said club.

Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road (Central Line)

Nearest Bus Stop: Charing Cross Road (beside Foyles bookshop. The route is served by buses coming from the Soho area and beyond)

The World’s End (Camden)

No, it’s not a tenuous link to the third in the Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy; but it is one of the finest pubs in Camden. Sitting literally on top of the town’s famous Underworld club and live music venue, the first thing that strikes you when you walk in is the size of the place. It’s enormous. Figures suggest a capacity of around 1000 people and although I’ve never counted I can certainly believe it. Immediately in front of you is an enormous three sided bar that dominates the room, stocking a wide range of beers, spirits and ciders. Before purchasing your beverage I’d advise you to look up; take in the mezzanine seated area upstairs, seafoam green metalwork, the incredible artwork on the upper walls and the giant station-esque clock to name but a few highlights. It shouldn’t work, but god it does. It’s breathtaking.

The real beauty of The World’s End though is that it’s a pub for all occasions; a pre club pub or somewhere quiet for a few social drinks, this is a place that truly has it all. With the added bonus that Camden Lock market is right on the doorstep.

The service is excellent and price wise it’s on a par with most other places in Camden. Expect to pay around £4 for a pint of lager. An absolute steal, given how fantastic the atmosphere in the place is – there are places in the West End that are three times as expensive with nothing like the ambience. Now for the real shocker – the toilets here are excellent, smelling fresh and appearing clean. The Intrepid Fox and Crobar, take note.

Nearest Tube: Camden Town (Northern Line), Camden Road (Overground)

Nearest Bus Stop: Camden High Street


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