Thirty years ago there was a late-night drinking spot in Soho called The Piano Bar. The punters were an eclectic bunch – actors from the West End would regularly rub shoulders with East End wide boys creating a hedonistic cocktail set to a background soundtrack of have-a-go singers (years before we’d heard the term Karaoke) corralled by larger-than-life drag queen Ziggy Cartier. Since then, Soho has gradually become a homogenised landscape of bland bars playing the same music appealing to a generally younger crowd. If you’re over 30, Soho didn’t want you making their venue look ‘old’. But go a couple of tube stops east and you’ll find a bar that will welcome you with open arms, and since the Very Miss Dusty ‘O’ has taken up residency on Sunday nights, you’ll find a bar that feels a lot like the natural evolution of The Piano Bar.
The New Bloomsbury Set may turn out to be your new favourite cocktail lounge.
The New Bloomsbury Set is an intimate basement bar cleverly lit with hidden LED strip lights colour-washing the space in warm purple hues. The back bar display offers a tantalising range of exotic spirits which makes it almost impossible to resist one of their £4.90 cocktails. It’s classy, like a Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse on a much smaller scale. The customers, much like The Piano Bar from years ago, are a diverse bunch. The guy wearing the ruffled front shirt and smoking jacket; the elegant mature lady with electric blue hair; the woman knitting at the bar. I felt instantly at home.
Host Dusty ‘O’ invites singers up and instructs us to make our choices from the showtune songbook. No Beyoncé, Rihanna or Jessie J here – this is the Musical Menagerie, so you’re more likely to hear George Gershwin than George Ezra. To guarantee a good night, Dusty also arranges a special guest or two. The Pink Singers are regulars at the Musical Menagerie, but tonight we’re treated to Miss Scarlet entrancing the crowd with classics like Ring Them Bells and When You’re Good To Mama.
The atmosphere is remarkably friendly. Even the bar staff seem happy to be here (regulars on Old Compton Street may find that difficult to comprehend). So if you’re of a certain age (and you have to be over 21 even to get in), the New Bloomsbury Set may turn out to be your new favourite cocktail lounge.