As speakeasy bars become more and more common in London, this quirky old-timer still stands out as one of the best.
Finding this venue is where the fun begins – unlike other so-called London speakeasies, Barts is actually pretty well hidden. A short walk from South Kensington tube station, the venue is situated inside a pretty standard looking apartment building – ask the reception staff and they'll point you in the right direction. Once you've located the black door, lantern and the Mickey Mouse wallpapered entrance, ring the bell and wait for a pair of eyes to appear through a small hatch to size you up and let you in (or book ahead to guarantee entry).
Inside the tiny den-like bar, you'll immediately be taken aback by the quirky Prohibition-style décor, where knick knacks fill every available space – think old radios, stuffed animals, antique ornaments, mirrors, books, a rather interesting Mona Lisa painting, sofas, chandeliers and an abundance of brown tables and chairs. There's even a fancy dress box full of wigs and costumes. Outside, there's a quirky, Cuban-style 'herb garden' with a cove, shisha pipes and garden furniture. In the cooler months, heaters help keep the area bearable.
Undoubtedly, the place is pretty cool and the staff know it. They don't have to go out of their way to be overly friendly – people will come to the bar anyway. Service is very efficient even at busier times, however. The clientele is made up of a mixture of a few tourists, local 'Sloanie' types and regulars who hold a key card to get in whenever they choose. As with many speakeasies (and Chelsea bars) there's a pretence about the bar, but as the night goes on this atmosphere eases. The mellow playlist is well complemented by a live jazz night every Wednesday – arrive early to get a good spot.
There's a snack menu if you're feeling peckish, which features mini dishes from around the world. Try the yummy Mexican-themed nachos (£5.95). The toppings are generous and evenly distributed – medium-flavoured cheese comes layered along with creamy sour cream and chive and fresh-tasting guacamole, with Uncle Bart’s special tomato sauce in pots on the side.
This is where the venue really stands out – the extensive menu really does offer something different. Everything from cocktails in teacups to your classics – they don’t come cheap, but are definitely worth the splurge. For a super fresh cocktail, try the drinks made with ingredients from the herb garden. The Basil Fawlty (£11.50) is really delicious – Bombay Sapphire gin, fresh basil leaves, pineapple and lemon are combined for a refreshingly aromatic and delicately peppery tipple. It's almost so smooth, you'll have reached the bottom of the glass before you realise! The Rosy-Fingered Dawn (£11.50) is a much sweeter cocktail – made with muddled Grey Goose Pear vodka, fresh rosemary, pear and lemon, it's almost hard to taste the herb through the syrupy flavour, but those with a sweet tooth will find it divine, nevertheless.
A really experimental drink is the Pickled Ploughman (£13.50). Made with gin, Chambord, Blue Stilton (yes, really), grapes, honey and grenadine, this really isn't for everyone - make sure you use a straw or the lump of blue cheese will be very close to the tip of your nose as you sip! Thick, strong and overpowering in flavour, you'll either love or hate it. The Smoke Screen (£19.50) is really one to impress, however. Served in a Dewar's Signature box alongside apple-scented tobacco and chocolates or cheese and honey, the super strong drink is made with Perique Tobacco liqueur, Dewar's 18 Year Old, Angostura Bitters, orange and sugar. Open the box and smoke will fill the table.
If cocktails aren't your thing, the champagne and wine list is also extensive (ranging from £24 for house plonk to £475 for the Dom Perignon Magnum 2002), while draught beers include Asahi Super Dry and Samuel Adams (£2.75 a glass,£4.40 a pint, £8.95 a stein) and bottled beers include regulars such as Heineken and Corona.
The Last Word
It may be a pretentious Chelsea bar, but with outstanding cocktails and a quirky one-of-a-kind setting, this speakeasy is a must-visit. Good luck on getting in, though!