Tuesday, June 10, 2003
One of the bars I drink in, let's call it the French Bar. It's a tiny, blink-and-you'll-miss-it place with a small but excellent wine list, and decent grub, hidden away in a side-street of London's Covent Garden. The place is stuck in a time-warp: empty bottles of Beaujolais '68 (a particularly bad year, by all accounts) swing from the ceiling; the framed and faded Time Out reviews by the mullioned windows date from the seventies; and no-one here has yet discovered a sensible use for Smirnoff Ice.
It’s not the place you'd normally expect to find me. A large proportion of the clientele are macho, middle-aged French ex-pats, talking boules or rugby over interminable glasses of Ricard. Either that, or they're boorish big-bellied City Suits with even bigger expense accounts.
There is, however, one small hard-core of wayward regulars, enjoying the wine, and holding out against the Suits and rugger buggers. These are actors and musicians, freelance photographers and writers, would-be "entrepreneurs" and cheeky Essex Wide-Boys, even the odd sozzled survivor from sixties Soho with stories to tell.
Running into them here can be a refreshing antidote to some of the hung-up homo-haunts of nearby Old Compton Street. Like the song says, it really is good to have a bar "where everybody knows your name". It's even better when it's a bar where, when you're going through a lean patch, the staff let you run up a tab of a hundred or so, as long as you find the readies to pay by the end of the month, or there'll be trouble, mon ami.
Because all of us here live our lives slightly at an angle to the respected "normality" of the bar's other customers, there's something of the Mutual Support and Networking Club about us. And it was in that spirit of Mutual Support that I found myself at an after-hours here over the weekend, watching, of all things, an Elvis Presley impersonator.
Now, for me, the prospect of being shafted by a red-hot poker is infinitely more promising than listening to someone ape the voice and mannerisms of a man who last made a decent record in 1963. Even the kitsch value doesn't do it for me. But as this was the teenage son of one of our maverick lot, working for his Equity Card in front of a paying audience, there was a moral obligation to cough up our five-quid and go.
And you know what? For someone who hadn't even been born when Presley died, he was actually very good, doing a better-than-decent cover of the Viva Las Vegas-era King, before he'd wolfed down one double cheese-burger too many.
Dad was obviously pleased, and the Luvvies he'd invited were dancing on the tables, as Luvvies often do, and much to the bemusement of our little French chums, who'd probably have preferred to have seen Johnny Hallyday anyway.
The kid needs to think about his act a bit more though. When you're playing to an audience of liberal-minded media-folk and non-saying Frenchmen, perhaps it's not such a wise move to have as your finale, a rip-roaring, flag-waving rendition of An American Trilogy…