Belushis Camden is an unpretentious but unremarkable bar. Though the decor is a little random to say the least, the staff are friendly and the drinks are cheap; join the locals if you’re around, but don’t make a trip specifically for a visit.
Belushis is easy to find on Camden High Street – turn your head coming out of Mornington Crescent Station and you can see it, a corner bar done up in an odd mix of aqua and yellow with the trademark Belushis logo lit up in red. Inside, it’s split into two by a dividing wall, the front housing the bar and providing a platform for live acts (though not on a stage per se) and the rear designed more for chilling out with an eclectic collection of couches and a pool table.
Throughout you will find an assortment of wooden tables and chairs at both regular and bar stool height and some TVs for watching sport – though if that’s what you’re after you might be better off elsewhere as the screens here aren’t very large, and some of them are blast-from-the-past tubes rather than flat screens. There are also two games machines (one of the common touch screen variety and a much older contraption in the front) and a touch-screen jukebox.
The whole bar is done up in the same curious mix of aqua and yellow as you’ll find on the exterior and a mix of posters and memorabilia. It seems as if the bar isn’t quite sure what theme it’s going for; there’s a lot of alcohol branding throughout accompanied by a Led Zeppelin poster, a poster from The Shining, various other posters from films and TV shows (even on the ceiling), an American-style traffic light and a branded mirror from Belushis Covent Garden - though whether this is a homage to the original bar in the chain or merely some astute form of recycling is hard to tell. That said, while one wouldn’t call it elegant or classy, this is a pleasant place to be - brightly lit until around 8pm when the lights dim in anticipation of the evening’s events.
In the early evening Belushis plays host to a broad spectrum of customers; you might see a couple of after-work suits having a lager and watching the football at one table, a group of casually dressed friends catching up on the couches around another, and some glammed-up girls taking advantage of the cheap drinks before hitting the town at a third. There’s a 52 bed hostel above the bar, so you’ll hear a few accents, too.
Later in the night the mix changes to a more standard Camden set, with a young punk and alternative crowd. It’s all very relaxed and unpretentious, although having two rather large bouncers outside a relatively small bar suggests this might not always be the case. The staff are very friendly and there’s enough of them that getting a drink isn’t difficult. The bar doesn’t end up packed either, so once you have a drink it’s easy to find a bit of space to enjoy it in, although seating can be in short supply later in the evening.
You’ll hear a lot of rock coming out of the soundsystem, but there are live acts and an array of DJ-hosted theme nights throughout the week. Fridays and some Saturdays feature a live set, but unless you’re a part of their MySpace following it’s unlikely that you will have heard of any of the acts. Sundays host a live acoustic performance and Thursdays feature DJs playing alternative, emo and rock tracks.
The menu at Belushis is far broader than you would expect, with starters, baguette sandwiches, five different burgers, a standard collection of mains like fish and chips and bangers and mash, four large plates for sharing and a selection of salads and pastas. The flipside to this is that it’s also a little pricier than you would expect given the venue and the drink prices; the most basic cheese and pickle sandwich will set you back £5.50, whilst burgers (with fries) run from £6.50-£8.50.
The Aussie Works burger (£8.50) is a real treat - large with an fat beef patty, bacon, cheese and fried egg on a sourdough bap. The salad and the more exotic parts of the burger (pineapple and beetroot) come on the side so you can assemble your burger how you like, which is a nice touch. However, the dish is let down by the fries, which seem to have been waiting on the plate too long.
The Fully Loaded Nachos sharer plate (£9.95) promises a ‘huge plate of tortilla chips’ and this is certainly delivered. You can expect a jaw-droppingly large plate with generous portions of salsa, sour cream, guacamole and jalapenos. The sour cream and guacamole are excellent but the salsa is the unexpected star, with a spicy tang to it that works very well. Disappointing, however, is the difficulty finding any of the advertised chilli beef, making the platter more of an enormous snack than a meal.
The drinks are the real focus at Belushis, with a broad range at low prices, further supplemented by regular specials. The cocktail and shooters menu is enormous, with 40 cocktails and nine different shooters.
Cocktails can be purchased by the glass (£3.95) or by the jug (£10.95), but the cocktail happy hour until 10pm Monday through Thursday, 9pm Friday and Saturday, and all day Sunday, reduces those prices to £2.95 and £8.95, while shooters are either £2 or £3. The cocktail list encompasses both old favourites and more creative mixtures, all with generous servings of alcohol. The emphasis is on the drink and not presentation, and you’ll find you are served your cocktail in a very standard glass with little fanfare. The Blues Brother (vodka, Blue Curacao, sweet and sour and lemonade) has a strong kick, whilst the Woo Woo (vodka, peach schnapps and cranberry juice) is a sweet and easy cocktail, making it a popular choice among the female patrons of the bar.
If you’re not looking for a cocktail you still have a wide choice on tap, with Carlsberg Extra Cold, Guinness Extra Cold, Becks Vier, John Smiths Extra Cold, Fosters Super Chilled, Kronenbourg Extra Cold and Strongbow, further reinforced in the fridges by VB, Corona, San Miguel, Budweiser, Stella Artois, Crown, Smirnoff Ice, the Red Square range, Bulmer’s and St Helier.
If you’re looking for wine, though, be warned that the wine list is tiny, especially considering the range of other drinks on offer. Two house whites, reds and roses are available at £3.25 for a 175ml glass, but the best value is to buy the bottle for £11.50. Sparkling wines and Champagnes are available by the bottle, two of each kind, topping out with Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label at £45.
The Last Word
Belushis has never claimed to be a high-end establishment (less Bohemian chic and more Bohemian Rhapsody), and it isn’t. It’s a pretty middle of the road place with nothing spectacular to recommend it. However, if you’re in the area and are looking for a relaxed place to have a cheap drink then it’s worth a visit.