Wednesday, 1 June 2011

bourne & hollingsworth

Unsuspecting but intriguing, Bourne and Hollingsworth has realised a goal that many cocktail bars strive for but rarely manage to achieve; it is, quite simply, different. Yes, it may be so small that there’s hardly enough room to swing a cat, let alone dance to a gramophone record - and yes, it may be teetering slightly on the worse side of shabby chic - but its dedication and enthusiasm for quirky cool in the heart of media London makes this a stand-out venue.

After several recommendations from friends and colleagues, and finding ourselves near Goodge Steet and in the mood for a cocktail one Friday night, we decided to pay the small bar on Rathbone Street a visit. Tucked away in a basement on a street corner next to a busy restaurant, it's very easy to miss completely; we ourselves had mistakenly wandered past twice, ending up, confused, near the BT tower or down some long-forgotten alleyway.

Realising after we ventured down the stairs to the Bourne & Hollingsworth basement that we'd be sharing the place with exactly eight others, we soon found that a situation which would have been off-putting in any other Central London bar at 10pm on a Friday actually felt strangely and intimately endearing at Bourne and Hollingsworth.

After all, set out like a crazed long-lost great Aunt’s lounge that was in need of a spot of decorating some 50 years ago, it’s definitely a step away from the loud pubs and booming music of the modern world outside. This place has a way of warmly luring you in, with teacups on tables, floral wallpaper, frilly lampshades and framed needlework on the walls. Oh, and the promise of a Jammie Dodger with your cocktail, of course.

Propped up against the bar, we listened to the DJ - a choice of entertainment which may seem slightly out of place, but, like everything in this strange juxtaposition of a Central London bar, it just works - and examined the origami-like folded paper menu. Pleasantly surprised by the variety of different and unique cocktails that were on offer, little symbols by each cocktail to show how it’s served is particularly appealing if you're someone who chooses drinks on
appearances and names over the actual contents. Alongside the normal cocktail glass, there are drinks in an array of different objects, and we chose one in a jam jar and one in a tea cup - a floral tea cup, no less, with a saucer and a piece of shortbread.
Impressive, and tasty, the cocktails themselves are strong and not really too expensive for London prices - we paid just under £15 for two.

Incredibly friendly barmen are also on hand to take pity on any bewildered first-timers gazing round in bemused wonder at the place, and it’s certainly good fun to watch staff who wouldn’t look out of place in a modern bar making cocktails next to plates of biscuits, paper napkins, cupcakes and china teapots.

This is all very quirky and endearing, but why, really, does Bourne & Hollingsworth work so well? Apart from its individuality and its good, strong cocktails, its best feature must be its immediate appeal to the latest craze for all things vintage-inspired; although, like similar venues elsewhere, it refrains from doing this in a pretentious way, and instead evokes a kind of effortless chic. It has the ability to feel like your own little secret hideaway, whilst being extremely popular and doing a very good trade; and that’s quite some paradox to pull off.

Is it any coincidence that almost everyone who’s recommended me to go to this place has, at some point, lived in Brighton? Not at all; it has a sense of the hippy eccentric about it, and you can’t help feeling that Central London could do with more naturally quirky places like Bourne and Hollingsworth amidst all its commercial chains.

Or maybe, instead, the point is that B&H really is one of a kind - maybe it is that, after all, which makes it one of Central London’s most effortlessly cool bars.

If you’d like to visit, have a look at
Bourne & Hollingsworth’s website - it’s an extremely basic landing page, but, again, this is all part of the charm.

And a P.S: a little name check here for Alex, the first person to mention Bourne and Hollingsworth to me.

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