Water Rats is something of an enigma; by day it’s a very quiet, very ordinary pub, but come the evening it transforms into a music venue exhibiting the best of London’s emerging musical talent. This tiny but legendary venue has hosted the likes of Bob Dylan and Oasis, so this is the place to be if you want to catch a glimpse of the next big thing.
Grays Inn Road is one of the less popular avenues in Kings Cross for a night out as it lacks the bars and clubs of Pentonville Road and the restaurants of Caledonian Road; however, Water Rats helps to bring some much needed sparkle to this often overlooked area.
Virtually empty in the day, evenings here radically transform Water Rats into a buzzing live music mecca, although it does retain the nice touches of its daytime facade such as the red curtains, TV screens and cabinets displaying various rock memorabilia. Due to the small stage and cosy standing area things can get very intimate, allowing fans to feel the live music as it was meant to be felt. The sound is fantastic and betters many of the bigger, more established music venues across London. The only problem is, if it’s a full house there’s restricted viewing, although this doesn’t matter too much thanks to the bands being so close to the audience.
When the music promoters arrive, Water Rats is lit up by funky red lampshades and the entrance is paved with red carpet as DJs spin tunes whilst the bands set up. From its quite bleak and ordinary look in the day, there is a very trendy, lively bar atmosphere in the evening. However, it does occasionally falter when it comes to the turnout as most punters are friends and relatives of the bands, although the bar staff help to add a friendly edge to proceedings.
Most evenings see four or five indie rock bands playing with a few acoustic acts opening each night. The live music scene in London is thriving with raw talent but only bands on the way up play here, so expect far more polished performances than the ones you’ll catch at your local pub.
From time to time more recognised acts play the Water Rats such as Kate Nash and Just Jack and more recently Black Kids and Newton Faulkner, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on their listings.
Water Rats is rarely busy in the day so the kitchen staff sometimes leave well before the music starts, so if you plan to eat it’s recommended you get here before 4pm. A small selection of sandwiches and baguettes are available as well as typical pub grub such as burgers, steak, and sausages and mash ranging in price from £5-£10.
Drinks are a little over £3 and there is a decent range of beers available such as Leffe lager and Spitfire real ale amongst the more popular selections such as Kronenbourg and Guinness. The wines and spirit choices could be wider but music fans are hardly going to be deterred by a lack of their favourite South African red. Unlike many music venues, all drinks are served in glasses and can be taken into the music area.
The Last Word
Entry to most nights is £6, and depending on the bands and the turnout it could feel like a bargain or a slight letdown. Nevertheless, Water Rats is one of the better small music venues in London and it takes a significant place in the city’s rock music history.