The Bars And Restaurants That Stand The Test Of Time

Here today, gone tomorrow, bars have a reputation for short-term success. But a few have the ability to ride the times and keep on top of the game.
I was sitting in The Groucho Club one late summer's evening discussing with a now well known haute couture designer, the new wave of drinking culture that was enveloping the capital, arguing that London really had never been so exciting. Up until that point, drinks were very much a secondary element of the overall experience - wine was simply white or red, beer came only in a pint glass and vodka was whatever paint-stripper the barman chose to pour. But in the nineties, we were on the cusp of a cocktail movement. New-world wines were making the Chardonnay and Shiraz as commonplace as the Bordeaux, while new conceptual drinks like Red Bull were seriously shaking up the market, broadening people's drinking landscape and challenging us to think about drinking as more of a lifestyle. Slowly, what was behind the bar appeared to be taking over the focus of the night. People were whispering rumours of late night bars that were open into the wee hours, where glamourous glitterati rubbed hips with the international jet-set over Manhattans and Martinis. They, along with The Groucho, were the places everyone wanted to be seen and their popularity seemed untouchable to all but the most cynical.
Of course, everything has a lifespan, we cynically agreed: fashion is dead in a season, and a fashionable bar - well you wouldn't want to bet the house on it would you? We both concluded that fashions simply can't last and those bars, which today were the subject of snaking queues, would quickly turn to yesterday's news as would the drinks that were being quaffed within. Of course, in most cases we weren't far wrong. Mondo, Saint, Titanic, Riki Tik... all have fallen by the wayside having once been celebrity favourites of their day. Many others have turned from exclusive A-list excellence to godawful tourist tat. The Gin Sling became the Sea Breeze became the Bramble became the Vanilla Mojito...
But it's not all doom and gloom. Today, another ten years hence, I am back in the same leather couch of the same Groucho, and ordering from the menu a Red Bull, a drink whose ability to transcend fads and trends seems to symbolise the aspirations of nightlife culture. It has history and heritage and has attained almost timeless appeal. Fashionable works for a while, but every owner, manager and promoter hopes and strives for one thing ultimately - and that is to be the next classic. Because the classics, while small in number, exist on a plain far superior to fashion. Dotted amongst the sprawling community of one-off wonders that populate the bar world, a few classics really have stood the test of time, riding the cyclical waves to achieve immortal credibility. The Groucho is one of those timeless classics. Through the years it has always been at the top of its game, its members' list comprising the same names that populate the pages of the celebrity press together with the successful and powerful in the world of media.
Nowadays, octogenarian founder members sit comfortably alongside young achievers and its long-term future would appear to be set in stone. Embassy is another long-time winner - or more to the point, its ever-present Rock 'n' Roll proprietor, Mark Fuller, who ran the original Embassy twenty years ago with equal success. This most recent incarnation of one of London's most famous clubs, now with a fine dining restaurant that counts among the capital's very best, and glitzy nightclub in the basement, is a rare constant in the oscillating world of the fashionable. Another face that has always been associated with bar and club supremacy is Jake Panayiotou who ran original celebrity hot-spot, Browns for a decade before moving on in its hay-day. His last few years at the helm of the Wellington Club in Knightsbridge have seen the age-old members' club climb to yet new heights. But it's not only members' clubs that can battle through the ages unscathed. Music-led venues such as Medicine Bar in Islington, Bar Rumba, The Cross, Bar Vinyl and The End have all proved their mettle, while the likes of Hanover Grand, The Gardening Club and Iceni have collapsed into the annuls of 'hip' history.

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