I’ve yet to visit America, so any impressions I have of it are mostly taken from TV and the movies. One thing that’s always fascinated me in this on-screen world, is how different American bars appear from their British counterparts. I’m not talking glamorous ‘Sex in the City’ style bars here, but the type that ‘cops’ go to after a hard days work – rough, rambunctious places where men drink beer of a very low abv and women play pool suggestively.
They’re bigger which I understand is par for the course in America, people sit at the bar more (a good thing) and rather excitingly they all seem to serve cocktails (another good thing, though in England this is usually a cue to turn right around and walk out). They also replace the cosy charm of the British pub with loud music, a dance floor and a nightly brawl that involves one combatant breaking some form of product placement over an opponent’s head.
Does any of this have a basis in reality? Until I actually get Stateside for real I won’t know but in the meantime I can get a little fix of imaginary blue-collar Americana up in NW5 at the rather fun Aces and Eights.
With a plethora of speakeasy-style, sophisticated establishments in London, it’s refreshing to find a bar aiming for an entirely different experience. Sophisticated it aint, but neither is it trashy or cheesy. Just fun in a dive bar way, as their tag line suggests: ‘Rock n roll, whisky, cocktails and pizza’.
Admittedly there are a few things that differ from the movies (and The Simpsons), the first being the staff. No Coyote Ugly hotties but no surly Moes either. Instead the bar staff headed by Stuart, offer a friendly, warm professionalism that makes you feel among friends.
The music also seemed a huge improvement on the soft rock/country mix. Before the pretty decent live band came on the audio mix included Nick Cave, the Stone Roses and other classic indie, firmly establishing Aces and Eights removal from theme bar status. (Though on reflection, I wrote this review listening to Dick and the Deltones and the Seeds – I think a little garage/surfer rock would work a treat here).
On the other hand, the music was loud, there was a fine array of neon signs, a row of rough and ready booths, and a man sat at the end of the bar nursing a whisky. Ah, a real Hills St Blues moment.
The cocktail list is short and a little unimaginative but on being mixed a decent whisky sour and an excellent Manhattan, I’d say don’t let that put you off. The mixing skills are clearly there but this is an unpretentious place, solidly rooted in the north London tradition of hard-drinking and real music. Don’t expect homemade tinctures or pomegranate foams and you won’t be disappointed. Best named cocktail award goes to the Parma Violence (Gin, lemon and creme de Violette).
There’s also a decent range of American beers, and a wide choice of whiskies. And the pizzas – made by Il Bacio - were also pretty damn good. On the large size, they showed all the creativity the cocktail menu lacked. Mine had avocado on it which was a first but definitely not a last.
When I finally do make it to America, I think the very first thing I’ll do is buy a drink at a dive bar and I won’t be disappointed if it turns out to be like Aces and Eights.
But I sure as hell will be if there’s not a Knicks game showing while The Boss’ blares out over the PA and a lone man in a Stetson at the end of the bar tries to pick a fight with me.