Bar launches have become rare occurrences in these recession heavy times. It used to be that every day of the week (excluding Fridays and weekends) was filled with the backlit underglow of some swank cocktail establishment opening its door to the leisure suited platinum-card carrying bon viture.
How times have changed. These days the glass doors are pristine where once long fingered hands left traces and even the narrowest establishment seems bitterly empty as people rush home through the seasonal attrition of our extended winter.
Wow that is a big building.
Walking up to the InterContinental London hotel in Park Lane there is a bit of glitz and glamour about the place. Doormen’s whistles pierce the night as the gently ambling mob of mid thirties high heeled professional ladies lead trailing smart gents. Civilised stuff.
On entering the hotel several thousand maitre de’s, clipboard door babes and waist coated attendants converge ready to help, direct and interrogate. Of course, this could be because I look like a domestic terrorist dressed by Russell Brand and happen to be singing a few choice numbers from the Mike and Mechanics repertoire but then again we live in paranoid times. Somewhere across the marble expanse the head girl of lists pushes her way through the throng. Trebuchet!? Trebuchet indeed.
The brushed glass bar sunken tables and back lighting look familiar enough but there is a raucous sort of elegance to the evening which works well as the bar is bursting with people. On a raised dais a small jazz combo wrings out the standards; pitching it right, enough pap for the peeps and enough juice for people that know. The shiny gold dresses start to mingle into one as insistent eyes come from everywhere. People are REALLY chatty here, every girl is a presenter, every guy is their husband and everyone wants to talk, about everything. Right now.
Suddenly, there are drinks.
The launch occupies four distinct areas; the hive like foyer bar, a large lounge, a smaller select area with a circular promotional bar and then the mystery room, each with its own attraction, crowd and feel.
The first bar, which I call a hive as it is smaller and a bit more separated, supplies me with some fantastic Moet champagne to almost endless extents. The waitresses brandishing bottles refill glasses as though they were being paid by the litre and quickly lift the crowd to even greater heights of jostling chatter. This night could become dangerously fun, thankfully canapés cut the fizz, and the presenters realise I’m not that sort of editor.
Escaping the endless flow of champagne I retreat to the smaller promotional bar and am immediately supplied with tasters of a new Sipsmith Gin, distilled in Hammersmith to a traditional recipe that goes back months. The table contains large beakers holding the various ingredients that compose this tasty new gin (apparently the first new gin distillery opened in the UK for 160 years) allowing the imbibers to seek out the flavours in the each glass. No sooner am I lowering the glass after the first sip when a polite lady starts telling me about the minutiae of distilling gin. Expecting a brochure I discover she isn’t, in fact, affiliated with the distillery but has been converted over a number of tasters. She informs me that the Arch bar is a gin lover’s dream, sporting over 25 different gins in all manner of variations and concoctions. I instinctively yearn for a beer but acquiesce to another glass of pungent clear liquid as I proceed to get an education over the din.
Apparently many of the people here are gin journeymen with far more appreciation and knowledge about the potent stuff than me. So of course I start faking it, piecing together references from cooking shows, a variety of herbs that I’ve passed in the supermarket, and the organic contents of my girlfriend’s shower products. In the beginning people are nodding sagely along, the more adventurous connoisseurs admitting they hadn’t heard of such a thing but it might be a lark. After discussing the ingredients of a tipple called ‘Herbal Essences’ the game is up. Happily the glasses are quickly refilled and we drink deeply; “To Jojoba”.
Wandering past the rather serious looking Jazz combo and into the large lounge (The Wellington) there appears to be a wide girth of people in grey suits lounging and (more importantly to a journalist's eye) there is a long queue of women making a beeline for a small golden lit room. Is this the way to the toilet? Have I ‘tasted’ too much gin? What is root cause of this lengthy deliberation? What wonders lie past the throng?
Stumbling through the line of gleeful girls I notice big smiles and stuffed cheeks, and when I finally make it into the crowded room, there before me, in all its childish glory, is a tree. A tree made of chocolate. Each leaf is carefully fashioned and underneath its laden branches are trays and trays of more chocolates.
It’s easy to be cynical, to take outlandish occurrences with a shrug and slight sneer, to remove oneself from situations of wonder for fear of appearing too invested. The veneer of control that guards us throughout the day will inevitably keep us locked away at night and by and large we go along with it. But come on, a BIG tree made of chocolate, even the Taliban couldn’t have anything against this. Reaching out and breaking off a sensuously brown leaf rates as one of the most joyous experiences I’ve had in ages. As fine gustatory bliss overwhelms me I consider taking another, but no. Let one pure experience ring out. Is that too much?
Optimism in opulence.
A bar launch can be a pretty base and one dimensional thing. It’s a siren’s song to liggers, friggers and journalists; patrons are ideally rich and all manner of buzzwords are expected to be substantiated, glass by free glass. One factor that doesn’t get mentioned much is the optimism of such a venture. You are in effect on a first date with a place that may never be quite the same. The launch is a moveable feast, a magical castle that appears for one night only and then disappears. What traces it leaves mark its host for better or worse and in theory people return (or not) on that basis. However, any launch is a good gauge of the establishment’s intent and tone. On this particular evening the InterContinental seemed to suggest that within these walls, tonight, all things are fine and they might even get better.
The Arch bar launch was a one those launches that others are measured against and not because of the booze or the company but because of the infectious optimism. I’ve never been to the InterContinental before but everyone associated seemed to be genuinely having a good time. Amongst the gold and glass, in the canapé cups and cake, the shared confidence amongst everyone seemed to be, well, really positive. Whether the aura of the evening was incumbent or transitory I may never know but it’s rare to see a London crowd be so at ease with itself that the distinction between strangers and friends becomes indistinguishable. It might well be that since no one really has any money any more, we all felt like we were getting away with something, a little shared launch naughtiness, a sinless forbidden knowledge; plucked, for one night, from the branches of a delicious tree.
Arch Bar @ the InterContinental, 1Hamilton Place, Park Lane.