From halfway across Putney Bridge, the Star and Garter's huge illuminated sign beckons from the rooftops, suggesting a Moulin Rouge-style dance hall or some kind of indie nightspot. However, once you're in the door, it's more chic and shiny than rough and edgy, inviting guests to get their glam and glad rags on instead.
Gleaming whites and silvers contrast with seating in deep brown velour, while a small fire is surrounded by a stylish mantelpiece and wooden chairs for toe warming. Huge front windows offer views to the river and the park beyond, but, once it gets dark outside, the lighting can cause some discomfort. Spotlights seem to be positioned directly above the main seating spaces, bathing each punter in a personal circle of light, and jarring with the elegant cocktail bar surrounds. The lights also serve to highlight stains on the seats and sticky tables, though. Elsewhere, décor is hard and brutally fashionable, but with questionable cleanliness and a little too much to see, it all teeters dangerously close to becoming tacky.
This bar attracts the chic and shiny clientele that fit in with the better part of its interiors. With live jazz and gin and tonics, weekends bring a cool and contemporary buzz, and spacious seating areas are welcoming to large groups whether they're indulging in cocktails or a bite to eat. Even on quieter week nights there is background music of swanky soft blues. The bar staff can come across as somewhat impersonal, even verging on rude, and sometimes a quiet drink is in danger of disruption from behind-the-bar chatter that leans on the shouty side. Generally, weekends and busy evenings can create an enjoyable buzz, but this swanky nightspot is designed for weekend cocktails, parties and private events, rather than a casual pint or Sunday pub lunch.
The menu brings something a little alternative to the table, with geographically themed tasters of charcuterie meats and specialist cheeses sourced from Borough Market. At £9.50 for a platter, they're not cheap treats, but produce is stored in a specialist cheese room and deli, and dishes are a sound investment for food connoisseurs. A meze menu features other dainty dining options ranging from a mixed salad for £4.50 to hot fillet of salmon for £12.50. There are plenty of vegetarian nibbles too, but meat eaters can get their teeth into bavette and fillet steaks, or even a chateaubriand between two for a £50 indulgence.
These guys specialise in gin, and they do it particularly well. No less than nine gin and tonics grace a dedicated menu, with anything from classic Bombay Sapphire to Sipsmith, brewed using Thames water, or even Death's Door, an American spirit made using Red Winter Wheat. G and Ts are generally £8 or £9, and again, they are tailored towards the experts. However, there’s also an impressive selection of other spirits and mixers, cocktails and even a few unusual pints up for grabs. The wine list is expansive and varied in both price and flavours. A glass of thick and fragrant house red is not unreasonably priced at £5.75, while Champagnes work their way up to £145 for a bubbly bottle.
The Last Word
As a cocktail bar and glamorous pub, Star and Garter does what it sets out to do, providing a haven for cheese lovers, wine buffs and gin and jazz enthusiasts. The bar is set high, and in many ways it delivers. However, it's hard to ignore sticky tables, strange lighting choices and alienating bar staff. At the end of the day, it's these little things that can make the difference between a comfortable cocktail with friends and an underwhelming experience where you’re itching to leave.