Nights out in central London are almost impossible.
In your mind’s eye, you see yourself swanning through acres of beautiful, interesting people while mouthing iconic R&B couplets like a cross between Drake and Neo from The Matrix.
What actually happens is that after spending £40 on a single round of drinks, failing to make conversation with anyone other than the cloakroom guy (“If I put my coat in my bag, can that count as just one item?”), and scrolling through your text message conversations in the smoking area for a good half hour, you find yourself walking down the South Circular at 3am, too broke to fork out the fare for a taxi home and asking yourself where it all went wrong. After all, this is London – you shouldn’t be able to step outside your front door without accidentally setting off a flash mob.
So if you are going to make what often feels like a protracted pilgrimage to Pluto and head into central London for a night out, the place you’re visiting had better be worth it. Earlham Street Clubhouse, Covent Garden, which my partner informs me used to be one of those weirdly empty bars broadcasting obscure sports matches to negligible audiences, has undergone the kind of renovation that will get it noticed. They’ve gone for an American frat-house theme, which is logical when you consider that all those teenagers who grew up watching the American Pie series and listening to Blink 182 are now earning steady money in their mid-20s, and are probably happy to burn some of their paycheck on a nostalgic throwback to an adolescence they heard so much about but never actually experienced. In lesser hands this could be a terrible, terrible idea, but they’ve done a great job here. The cocktails are punchy, the pizza is remarkable, and the atmosphere is fantastic.
As I make my way into the basement, I’m astonished to see that the place is completely full. It’s eight minutes into the opening night and the frat-house is rocking. Back in England, Eastenders hasn’t yet begun. It’s not even half past seven. I head to the bar to order a drink. When I ask the barman for a drinks menu he points over my shoulder – ah, of course. Should’ve known the menus would be attached with seatbelts to the ceiling. I pull one down – it even sounds like a seatbelt – and hold it in front of me for long enough to realise that I don’t recognise any of these drinks. College Rules? Sweet Valley High? I feel like I’m reading MTV’s daytime schedule. There’s even one called Stifler’s Mom –Tanqueray, absinthe, cucumber, lime, and syrup, splashed on the rocks – which pleasingly is as stimulating as its namesake, though perhaps not visually.
Still, for all the manicured affectations, these are some potent cocktails. There’s more creativity beyond the labels: my second cocktail is covered in chilli flakes, like some sort of dirty-pint forfeit. Low ceilings give the Clubhouse a roaring atmosphere, yet the wood-panelling is reminiscent of a ski chalet rather than Gamma House. That doesn’t prevent a parade of American memorabilia from sprawling across the walls – old-timey jukeboxes, big fat varsity fonts, baseball logos, ironic photos of Elvis, post-ironic vintage advertisements for marquee-name soft-drinks: every iconic emblem of the world’s favourite superpower is here, illuminated by a motley crew of neon bulbs, fairy lights and chandeliers. Deeper within the clubhouse is a dimly-lit lounge area, fitted with u-shaped leather sofa enclosures, for when there’s something about Mary that can’t wait until you get home.
The Frat-house theme extends to the food, where your choice is pizza. Thankfully the pizza is very good: it looks like the kind of thing Jack Black might find under his bed after a two-week bender, but it tastes absolutely great, mainly because they prepare it fresh on-site in a wood-fired oven. All the decadence of the frat, but with none of the squalor: isn’t that what Londoners want? I’m thrown yet again by the names of the pizza toppings, though I really should have expected this by now – there’s one called The Ross and Rachel – but when it’s so hot, fresh and gooey, it’s hard to complain. It’s the kind of comfort food which pairs very well with alcohol without being stodgy at all. The dough is light and fluffy. Full marks to the Clubhouse for tackling the important issue of drunk munchies with such gusto. They’ve chosen one dish and serve it very well indeed. And at £3.50 a slice (£18 for a giant, full-sized pizza) it won’t break the bank either.
Earlham Street Clubhouse is definitely worth checking out for the novelty alone – there aren’t many places in London which so lovingly pay tribute to American pop culture – but there’s much more to it than that. The atmosphere was lively and engaging, the cocktails were remarkably punchy and the food is well above what you might expect. In fact, it’s even worth trekking into central London for – all of a sudden, that long walk down the South Circular doesn’t seem so bad.