Polpo Campari Bar
41 Beak Street
The first question my friends asked me when I suggested we meet for a drink at the new Polpo campari bar was, ‘where is it?’ Although all three had been to Polpo before, like many other visitors to this Soho bacaro, they handn’t realised that there was a private room in the basement which has now been transformed in to the Campari Bar. (I’m not sure of the reason behind converting it from its former use,but to me a private room seems somewhat against the whole ethos of Polpo?)
A little like finding Narnia, to get to the Campari bar you go past the ground floor bar, take the right before the coats, go down the stairs and then take the first right. Downstairs echoes upstairs in terms of decor with the stripped back industrial feel of exposed brick walls and simple light fittings. A zinc topped bar is neatly nestled at the back of the room housing endless bottles of Aperol and Campari. As well as being the most blogged about restaurant in the world, Polpo is also the largest consumer of Campari in the UK! (bet you didn’t know that?)
The vision behind the bar is simple. Point. Drink. Eat. A small glass cabinet houses a selection of cicheti ranging from crostini to polpetti and the idea is just to point at whatever you want in the cabinet. You can also order from the kitchen fresh steaming hot meatballs and arancini. There are three communal tables where you can take a pew if you don’t want to perch around the bar. The drinks list includes a number of cocktails overseen by Polpo’s bar manager Ajax, such as Negroni’s, Aperol spritz and Campari spritz. The full wine list from upstairs is also available in the bar. Cicheti is priced at £1 a piece and cocktails are around the £6 mark.
Although London is getting better, it still lacks the sort of ‘speakeasy’ style bars tucked away from the masses, that you find in New York. The Experimental Cocktail club is good and Purl in Marylebone does try and emulate this, but the presence of a bouncer and guestlist transforms it from cool speakeasy into West End nightclub.
I may be missing something, but I still think it is hard to find a nice bar for a drink without either going to a hotel bar where drinks are expensive and you are likely to be approached by ladies of the night or go down the private members club route (where you are likely to be approached by even more expensive ladies of the night!).
To me a bar should be fun, relaxed and the sort of place you can come for a quick drink standing at the bar or a more leisurely one. I can see this bar as the sort of place where the likes of Angela Hartnett, Mark Hix and Jason Atherton will come after service for a nightcap and a few cicheti.
Polpo Campari bar already feels like an institution, a little community. I am sure if Canaletto was still alive he would be a regular.