Are you a hermit who’s been living in a dark and damp cave for the last year? Yes? Then stop reading. No? Good! If you’re like me who’s pretty up to date with what’s going on in the bar industry then you surely must have noticed the abundance ‘faddy’ bars that have popped up in and around London over the last 12 months.
These bars aren’t anything new for London in 2014-2015, these novel pop-ups and gimmicks have always existed and probably always will. However the questions I always ask myself when I see these novel ideas are:
1) Are these bars here to stay or are they purely just one off gimmicks to attract short term custom?
2) At what point does a “fad” become a “thing”?
I suppose the two questions are interconnected, with the second one looking at the bigger picture, questioning consumerism and trends as a whole. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to briefly compare a couple of current ‘fads’ with previous ‘fads’ and at what point did these previous one off gimmicks transform into multi-venue establishments that we recognise across the city.
New fads….what unites them?
Something that’s hit the press a lot this week has been an owl-themed cocktail bar that is set to open in Soho at the end of March. Annie the Owl joins the ranks of other animal-themed ventures that have hit the capital in recent years. For example take Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium opened in early 2014 in Shoreditch and The Happiness of Hounds that is planned to open later this year in, you guessed it, Shoreditch.
Straying away from animals but not Shoreditch, we of course have the controversial Cereal Killer Cafe which many commentators attacked for its symptomatic sign of the gentrification of the area by charging punters £3.20 for a bowl of Frosties. Obviously there are many other examples of out of hipster Shoreditch that spring to mind, such as the high-concept ‘dining extravaganza’ Inamo in Soho where you’re set with a holographic ordering system that is projected onto your table.
What unites all these concepts are that they are single-issue gimmicks that leaves very little to the imagination. To quote Ronseal, you get exactly what it says on the tin. This by all means isn’t a negative trait, or an indignation to imagination and ‘outside the box’ thinking that I’m sure was involved in their conception, but it can go some way to explain why you don’t see more of these venues around the country or around London. You go to the venue, you expect to pet an owl, car or dog-or have a bowl of pricey cereal and then leave.
This sounds like a contradictory statement, ‘why aren’t there more of something that is unique’? Yet if we look at previous fads, we can see how this is indeed a possible and feasible concept.
Old fads that became ‘a thing’
Who remembers the Burger and Lobster? Of course you do because they’re everywhere; Mayfair, Soho, Farringdon, Bread Street, Knightsbridge, New York etc etc… What started out as an outrageous gimmick, or a gentrified ‘surf N turf’, has fast become one of London’s most recognised restaurant chains.
The same can be said for Hummus Bros, a concept that was gimmicky in its nature… I mean why choose to have a meal based around overpriced Hummus , when you can have it in the comfort of your own home, as a snack before your dinner? Yet, what many saw initially as a fad now boasts 4 kitchens in Soho, Holborn, St Paul’s and Exmouth Market and even an online delivery system.
Finally BYOC which is a cocktail bar that doesn’t serve alcohol but you Bring Your Own Cocktail for a mixologist to mix in front of you and your guests has become an overnight success. Now boasting 3 venues in the South East this has led to a host of copycat venues to sprout around the capital latching onto its success.
So what has made these once viewed gimmicks become a ‘thing’? In my view these venues all have one thing in common, which elevates them above the one-trip pony gimmick that initially grabs your attention. You go there for a curious experience.
Firstly, you’re curious because these venues leave a lot to the imagination. I mean how on earth can you mix lobsters with burgers?! In what world can you have a meal based solely around Hummus?
Secondly, not only are you curious but its the experience that you have once you’re there, that embeds these ‘fads’ into unique experience that you cannot have anywhere else. I mean, I get my own mixologist? For my table? For only £25? And they will mix cocktail for me in front of my guests?
A ‘fad’ that personifies what I’m saying is the global Dans le Noir. I’m sure you’ve all heard of this ‘truly human and sensory culinary experience’, because everyone knows about it. And why is that? Because it is an experience like no other, personal to the individual which leads you curious to know more. The service, food, drinks is based solely on the darkened environment you’re in rather than relying on the underlining gimmick which brought you there in the first place. You’re on a journey when you go there, and which is different when you go with different people.
That’s why you want to return and that’s why these old fads have become established multi-venue bars/restaurants across the capital. I mean you wouldn’t repeat a party trick to the same group of friends twice would you? Once you’ve eaten your cereal, petted an owl or brought your cat to a bar you’ve done it. Tick.
The aforementioned fads need to focus more on the experience, and generate curiosity if they are to go beyond one-off gimmicks, into established multi-venue institutions around London and beyond.
Let me know what you think!