Cellar Door

Cellar Door bar

I’m on a budget at the moment, so when I was invited to an art launch offering champagne and cupcakes I accepted with alacrity. But it turns out there were a couple of problems with this particular lig…

Firstly, I realised I don’t like cupcakes.

Four reasons I don’t like cupcakes:

1) I’m not six, so eating lots of pink icing is no longer the turn on it once was
2) The cake itself invariably tastes like stale muffins
3) They’re bloody hard to eat when holding a glass of champagne
4)  Round my way, we call little iced cakes ‘fairy cakes’

I blame Nigella Lawson for the whole thing.

The second problem was that after a couple of glasses of champagne on an empty stomach I was ready to carry on the party, thus blowing the budget and the point of the evening completely.

Never one to let such minor details spoil a good time, I left the gallery in search of a cake-free environment. After a detour at the BFI’s Benugo bar, we ended up on the opposite side of the river at the Cellar Door.

This underground bar is housed in a former public toilet of ill repute (patronised by literary types from Wilde to Orton), rejoices in the Lynchian address of Zero Aldwych, hosts louche sounding cabaret acts and serves snuff. The perfect antidote, I thought,  to sugar and spice and all things nice.

I’ve popped in once or twice before but it’s always been so crowded I’ve left before the acts start. Given the bar’s tiny dimensions this is pretty much always the case so booking ahead might be advisable. On this particular night we just squeezed in so ordered cocktails, a Negroni (gin, sweet vermouth and Campari) and a Hemingway (rum, grapefruit juice, lime juice and maraschino), and waited for the debauchery to commence.

A Hemingway and a Negroni

The cocktails themselves were nice enough. The Hemingway could have done with less grapefruit juice and more kick. I know not everyone has the same relish for the taste of neat alcohol, but a drink invented for the most machismo of literary alcoholics should surely be less ladylike?

The Negroni was deemed ‘quite nice but not the best I’ve had in London’. I think the main problem was it was over-iced and so became increasingly watery. Competent drinks, if a little rough round the edges but not a great bargain at 7.90 each (1/3 off before 8pm).

The real disappointment was the atmosphere. The bar itself has a slightly disorienting effect from the mirrored walls (to enhance the size) and blue lighting, which creates a pleasantly Lynchian background. However, an office leaving party had taken over half the joint and while clearly enjoying the slightly cheesy musical stylings of the house piano player, did subtract from any ‘underground’ vibe going on.

This might have been a one-off so another time I’d check the listings on the Cellar Door website. They indicate the quality and style of the cabaret and cover charge, if any. For instance, Saturday afternoon is time for High tease – a champagne afternoon tea with a burlesque show and blackjack costing £33.

Sounds delectably decadent? So I thought until the menu revealed tea to consist of bubbles, finger sandwiches and…… cupcakes.


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