Bottoms Up, Bottoms Down

More of this please, landlords.

More of this please, landlords.

Alright you crazy cats, rant time.  There are plenty of issues to talk about of late, such as catastrophic wetness around the United Kingdom, or fast food a la ‘burger spaghetti’, available in China.  I’ve currently got sinusitis, but even that isn’t at the front of my (snotty) mind, no.  This is, though. 

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find comfy seating in bars and pubs in London.

For a bit of prologue, I’ll take you on a virtual tour of the lounge in my apartment.  There is a great window, looking out over the comings and goings of Limehouse, and to the towers of the City beyond.  I have scattered a load of beanbags/beanchairs in front of this window.  The limitless malleability of the beanbag has been jujjed using two oversize stuffed animals.  A bear called ‘Pom’ and a rabbit called ‘Rampant’.  This is a good place to sit in London.  The other night, I sat in the window watching that incredible lighting storm that turned the city into the opening scenes from The Day After Tomorrow.  The whole set up cost about fifty quid; for limitless, decadent, ‘just add rum’ comfort, this is damn fine value indeed.

It’s a similar application of basic economics, or supply and demand, or whatever the hell you want to call it which dictates that a successful bar, or one that serves a cracking Hendrick’s and Tonic, will invariably be full from five thirty on Thirsty Thursdays through to last orders on Salacious Saturdays.  That said, even when the waters part and a few spots to park your arse open up, it is about as pleasant and emotionally chaotic as the seating on Ryanair.  What’s to stop anywhere from buying into comfort and plushness, or at the very least, for the owners to bum test their prospective arrangements in the showroom?

Is it a case of cash-flow?  I doubt it, particularly with the current craze for vintage, up-cycling and furniture reclamation – there is nothing quite like the comfort of a leather sofa – and there have got to be thousands of those on offer on the cheap around town.  Case in point – Balham – there’s a pub there called Hagen & Hyde, and it’s not remarkable, but is a decent, well-run pub, exactly what you expect and want in leafy South London.  It was busy when we went, and we found ourselves standing, our drinks sat on the top of a decrepit upright piano, surrounded by the afterwork crew, where a chandelier overhead flickered and momentarily dimmed the view of the framed prints of Victorian flower sketches that adorned much of the wallspace.

THAT sofa at Hagen & Hyde

THAT sofa at Hagen & Hyde

But we remained alert despite many strong, cheap gins, because the lucky few in this wonderful little pub were sat on plush benches cushioned with padded leather, or even better, car-sized, crimson red leather sofas.  One became amiable and we literally threw ourselves onto it.   There are few better feelings than to be in a pub, Hendrick’s in hand, roaring fire to the left and a window to the right, where through it, all you can see is a rainstorm.  Bar owners take note – seating makes it, not Midori, as their marketing would have you beleive.  Even The Narrow, my most hated of pubs, has some pretty incredible sofas that can turn one pint into several.  With whiskey.

Sushi Samba is another wonderful bar, but many an evening spent up there has led me to believe that maybe its priorities are misplaced, or at the very least resting upon the perfect views of the city.  It has some pretty spectacular seating (the fireside loungers on the terrace are a great place to meet crazy South Africans, as I once found out), but nothing on offer would be what I would call comfy or plentiful.  There are meandering cushions, ledges and stools smattered around the inside, though hardly any look out onto our wonderful city silently throbbing about its business two hundred metres below, and they are of similar opulence to an Ikea settee.  Duck and Waffle, Sushi Samba’s sister restaurant, is two floor above and is somehow even less absorbing as this restaurant seems to have taken its decorative advice from hipsters who, lets face it, will sit on a bed of nails as long it means that you get to say “You know that place?  I’ve been there

Don't let the cushions fool you, it's cold and firm out there.

Don’t let the cushions foold you, it’s cold and firm out there.

For awesome seating, pubs tend to lead the way, in part I guess due to their homeliness, though there are other places worth of mention.  The intemperate Mr. Fogg’s in Mayfair will have you ensconced in cushions, leather or both, though you will have an equal chance of being perched on a couple of rickety stools, so be warned.  The Lucky Pig in Fitzrovia is a cracking little find (I’ll have a full report soon so watch this space) and understands the importance of seating, with a noteworthy penchant for the chaise longue.  Upstairs at Pacha has cast leather platform-sofa-lounger things that can accommodate half of the city and I am sure you have all heard of the Supper Club and their white bed-banquettes, where you can sip drinks and watch women wearing bin bags dance.  I kid you not.

Supper Club reclining

Supper Club reclining

When planning casual drinks, a date or a full-blown night out (though I’ve found that these three things often blur into the same, unhinged evening), finding a place with superior seating can be a minefield – and even if you luck out with a dream location, if it’s busy you still need to fight for the best spots.  I have seen proper fights erupt over a lucrative sofa, where the only winners were the sniggering bar crowd quick enough to film the whole sorry mess.  I imagine it is a precursor to what happens when The Day After Tomorrow really does happen and we are fighting over the last box of Krispy Kremes.

When it comes to parking tactics, some adopt the ‘make a new friend, squeeze in with them’ approach, the majority adopt the ‘loiter with bag, fly and flop’ strategy.  I believe in ‘bar karma’, and very often being in the right place at the right time will reward the relaxed.  It doesn’t hurt to have someone attractive with you either.

But drinking and sitting shouldn’t be a thought process or a struggle.  Bottoms down is every drinker’s right, to head out and be confident of finding their own lounge away from their lounge, like my window in Limehouse.  So I have an appeal to all you bar owners – invest in fluffy futons or supple sofas, preferably of the scratched leather variety.  Can it be that hard?  Or better yet, clean out all those wooden benches, metal chairs, and stools so high they look as stable as a Jenga tower thirty minutes in, and just buy a load of beanbags instead.  Fill the place with ‘em, see if I care.  Now that’s an idea.  I’m sure Pom and Rampant have a few brothers and sisters hiding somewhere to complete the picture.

© Mike Dalley, February 2014

© Mike Dalley, February 2014

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