I was having a martini the other day with a friend who is a very successful serial entrepreneur. We discussed the lessons we’d learned in 2012. One of his insights was that once a business grows to the point where you need to hire an HR (human resources) person, that is a clear signal to sell the company. The reason being that most HR people end up throwing grit into the cogs of a successful business. They are well meaning and armed with processes, testing procedures and forms – but are generally clueless about what makes a business successful. There are exceptions to this rule and I personally know of some very good HR people; but then I have to say that or they’ll stop reading my blog!
The other thing that marks out HR people is that most could never find a proper job in a productive sector of the economy. I feel the same way about socialists. They too are worthy individuals who are generally clueless about anything that matters. One of the problems with universal adult franchise is that some people actually vote for socialists. In the UK we have the socialist Labour party (for the benefit of my US readers the Labour Party in the UK is a bit like the Democratic Party in the US. Only worse). Thankfully the Labour Party has been banished from power and their leaders, like all good socialists, are now in private equity.
When the socialists were in power they made Islington, the area of London where their leaders resided, a rather trendy place. It’s still a very nice place with good restaurants, a buzzy high street with a decent selection of interesting independent stores and desirable, substantial homes. Since Labour fell out of power and it’s last successful leader, Tony Blair, left for a tonier address, Islington is not talked about anymore. It’s restaurants don’t get reviewed by the media and fashionable people aren’t photographed going there. I think its long term residents prefer it that way.
Into this media blackout enters a rather daring little bar, 69 Colebrooke Row, which had managed to buck the Islington trend. It’s made it into most people’s list of top bars in London. Witness the rave reviews from the bloggers at Yet Another Gin, Gin Monkey, In Pursuit of Food and the happenings site Urban Junkies.
To find out what all the fuss was about I made the long trek to Islington, accompanied by a glamorous friend from south of the Mason Dixon line.
69 Colebrooke Row is off the main drag on a desultory street corner. They make a big deal about being the Bar With No Name (because its name is its street address? It has been so done before darlings, but then this is Islington). Inside it is dark with a 1950′s vibe. There is soft, big band jazz on the stereo. You blink to adjust to the darkness and realise you are in a very small room. Most of the customers are seated at small tables set around two long red leather banquettes. There is standing room for just a handful of people at the bar (and on the stairs where we ended up for a bit). The whole place can accommodate 40-45 people at the most. Do not come here with a large group. The customers are mostly media types more at home in Shoreditch, but they are not here on business. Or if they are, they are planning on screwing the people they do business with, in the nicest possible way. This is a romantic bar. The decor is minimal; blackout blinds to keep it dark, retro light bulbs with prominent filaments, an old Laguna Seca auto racing poster, a mirror with an ad for Campari, a Japanese woodcut. That’s it. 69 Colebrooke Row is special not because of its decor – its the cocktails you come for here and the staff who make you stay.
The cocktail list is short but creative and requires some explanation from the wait staff. Mason Dixie Chick and I both ordered a drink called the Sirocco. It consisted of flint and peppercorn vodka, sugar, grapefruit oils and lemon peel. It is an unusual and sophisticated drink. The grapefruit is heavy on the nose, with the lemon peel and peppercorn flavours blending nicely on the palate. We both found it slightly sweet but still likable. I would have worked my way through the cocktail menu but more bars beckoned. I will be back.
A word about the staff. They helped paint the picture. The waiters are formally attired in white coats and ties. The waitresses are in black cocktail dresses with the odd bit of lace showing. They are warm, friendly, extremely knowledgeable and universally good looking. They also spoke English which is unusual amongst wait staff in London.
Sometimes I wonder what all the fuss is about a bar. Fundamentally it is a simple business model; you have to find a good location, make the room comfortable and mix a few drinks. You then hire some decent wait staff and charge as much as you dare. So why do people rave about places like 69 Colebrooke Row? Founder Tony Conigliaro, who is also the man behind the Zetter Townhouse has got the basics right. He has found the right mix of ambience, staff and cocktails to make his bar work. He has also brought in an X factor, a little pixie dust that makes a place special, even magical for a period of time. 69 Colebrooke Row has had a storming run. Go visit before the hoi polloi discover it. You might even run into some left over socialists.