Simon Richardson wants to light up a cigar and smash a chair over someone’s back
Whenever I enter Hyde Park during university months, I get a pang of jealousy – or it could be sciatica. Distant memories of wild student nights gone by linger on the breeze, taunting me with lost youth and grey hair.
In Hyde Park, the pub is king and the thousands of students, loyal subjects. But I’m not here to visit a pub – oh no. Hyde Park has a new pretender to the throne, East Village, a cocktail-centric dive bar with hidden promises of chicken wings coming from its basement.
Not one to let sleeping (or dead) chickens lie, I’m lured back to the scene of so many past crimes to check it out.
Ten years ago I would have begged the staff to let me sleep there
We arrive at East Village at 8:30pm on a Wednesday and the party is already in full swing. The outdoor area, which spills on to the street next to the Continental supermarket (I still know it as Mo-Mo’s), is heaving with smokers and cold-proof young ladies and as I peer through the fog I can see a black exterior with a hint of condensation forming on the corners of the windows. It’s heaving inside – the music is loud and the crowd is buoyant, but there’s no hint of rowdiness or niggle. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the new student generation.
We settle at the bar, where quiz night is getting underway, and order ourselves a couple of looseners. It’s very busy, but we’re quickly singled out as old people who don’t want to wait and the staff are attentive, friendly and helpful. I keep thinking “Where everybody knows your name…”
The menu is aimed at students and I’m worried for a minute, but a massive taste map of traditional cocktails covers the wall at the end of the bar, so we go with an Old Fashioned (£7) and a Boulevardier (£7.50). The Boulevardier is excellent – the sweetness of the vermouth balanced against the bitter Campari. The Old Fashioned is sweet as ordered by my partner, but too sickly for my taste.
I sit back and survey the scene, kind of wanting to light up a cigar and smash a chair over someone’s back. But this isn’t America… is it?
Moving on, the Vieux Carre (£7) is well put-together if slightly too light on the bourbon and a bit small for the price. I’m testing the knowledge of the staff now, and they’ve got the goods to match; no cheat sheets, plenty of questions about preferences that show an excellent underlying knowledge. The Sazerac (£8) is too heavy on the absinthe – it tastes more like Pernod and the cognac is lost a bit.
The margarita (£7) is disappointing; far too sweet, devoid of salt rim and served in a glass more suited to an Old Fashioned. The standout cocktail of the evening though is a perfectly-made whisky sour (£14) with Lagavulin 16. I could have gone for a cheaper whisky, but I want peat and smokiness to cut through the light, frothiness of the egg white and by God, it’s delicious.
All around us, the pub quiz is in full swing. It’s less about questions and more about picking up cereal boxes with your teeth. If I was twenty, I’d be swinging from the light fittings, but I’m a tired, embittered mid-30s man so I watch from the sidelines as chaos reigns supreme. Everyone is having a lot of fun... where are my slippers?
There’s a real jewel in the East Village crown hiding at the bottom of a secluded set of stairs. Venture down and you are met with Holy Mountain – a sole trader dealing in tacos (£2 each) and the largest chicken wings known to mankind (£1 each on Wednesdays). The halloumi tacos are absolutely bang on, bite-sized handfuls of joy and the fried chicken option is crisp yet juicy.
The wings, though, are absolutely absurd. I didn’t know it was legal in this country to hunt albatross for sport. I could bludgeon my wife to death with one, but instead I choose to eat six and fall off my bar stool. They’re hands down the best chicken wings I’ve ever eaten.
To be completely fair in my review of East Village, I have to enter the mind of a student. The fact is, at nearly 35, it wasn’t my kind of atmosphere – but ten years ago I would have begged the staff to let me sleep there.
They are masters of creating a specific kind of environment that will see them constantly busy, without doubt. The service is prompt and professional and the cocktails are good – not brilliant, but again, they are undoubtedly better than any cocktails I’ve ever drunk in Hyde Park before.
Like a Paul McCartney obsessive though, I’d come back just for the wings – and perhaps the occasional Old Fashioned.
The East Village, 47-49 Brudenell Grove, Leeds LS6 1HR.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: made by God him/herself.
Food & drinks
Boulevardier 8, Old Fashioned 7, Vieux Carre 6, Sazerac 5, Margarita 4, Whisky Sour 10, chicken wings 9, tacos 8
Never too busy to notice when your glass is empty and talk ingredients
Not for me, but absolutely brilliant for a younger crowd