Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Wilton's Music Hall

Even the most inattentive reader of this blog will notice that the majority of bars which we have reviewed are either underground or, to some extent, hidden. They have been designed or set up in such a way in order to lure in idiots like us and trick us into thinking that they are cool by validating our need to be that little bit different; to know that little bit more than everybody else. 

Wilton’s Music Hall, ‘the city’s hidden stage’, has all of this in abundance. The alley in which it is found does not show up on Google maps – making it the equivalent, to some Londoners, of the places on medieval maps where waterfalls tumble off the edge of the world and dragons roam free from the realms of logic. True to form, one person we were meeting there was found circling the area like a homing pigeon without a home. Clearly, then, it is secret enough to fit the bill.

It is the world’s oldest surviving Grand Music Hall and people have been drinking on the premises for hundreds of years. It has been providing Londoners with an ever-evolving range of on trend activities and drinking for longer than most. While some bars hark back to this forgotten age, Wilton’s is a relic of it. The location, design and history of Wilton’s give it an advantage over other bars which attempt to give off a similar image. The Mahogany Bar and The Green Room do not need to try to be cool bars; they are by virtue of their heritage. As a venue Wilton’s speaks for itself: it hasn’t covered up or overexposed the history – it is just a working venue that has risen from its knees to being able to strike a difficult balance in making this precious space available for the public’s enjoyment in a number of different forms, and preserving it for future generations.     

Wilton’s is situated on Graces Alley,  and lies a short walk east of Tower Hill or Aldgate, past railway-arch carwashes which look like they’d be willing to wash anything out of your car (think Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction dimmed by the gritty ‘reality’ of ‘Police Camera Action!’). Pass alleyways which, although clearly built in the sixties and covered in graffiti less inventive than the cocktail menu in a B@1, someone even less convincing than us might claim are the same streets in which Jack the Ripper committed his most heinous crimes.   

Once you find the venue, you are struck by the beautiful exposed brickwork, which any kooky East-End bar would kill for but can only mimic, and a couple of battered wooden doors with gaslights hanging above them. Here you can finally begin to imagine a world before poured concrete and post-modern despair.
What makes the bars at Wilton’s all the more impressive is the fact that they are merely a sideshow to the main act – the music hall itself. Not only can you show off the fact that you are aware of the coolest places in London to drink, but also that you are sensitive to the historic fabric of the city. All the while (as all things vainly strive to) validating your colossal alcoholism by tricking yourself into thinking it’s for a good cause. 

While Wilton’s would still be cool if it served tepid, flat Fosters, and while that is much closer to our standard poison, it offers a range of drinks which would almost be enough to make a harrowing suburban Wetherspoons worth visiting. The Mahogany Bar serves a twist on the selection of quality ales, lagers and ciders which have become essential to any cool London bar. From cider that is not spelled like cider and doesn’t quite taste of the piss you get in milk cartons in The West Country to beer made somehow more delicious by the fact it has sediment in the bottom, the selection on offer will allow you to impress yet again by demonstrating that you don’t only drink lager flavoured water. If you have been seen through so far, head upstairs to The Green Room and try some of their speciality cocktails which run on a seasonal menu (because where doesn’t). If you want to get weird with some mezcal (cf. Mezcaleria Quiquiriqui) try The Old Curtain, or if you want to be creative (and they actually have the ingredients) try The New World Alexander which somehow manages to create a cocktail out of the ingredients of a half decent soup. 

Another aspect of Wilton’s which sets it aside is their offering of aperitivo on week nights - originally a Milanese tradition containing a selection of free light bite-sized snacks. I’m not a food critic (or a drinks one for that matter), so won’t comment on the nature of the nibbles beyond saying that it was nice and I liked it lots. Since I’m a savage I found it difficult to grace the fine line between politely grazing and stuffing my face, and definitely veered towards the latter. It’s an extra social nicety which just adds to the whole experience.  

Of course, this should fit in well with the apparent British love of social niceties. We love queuing and we would never think to disturb the man dying on a tube escalator. However, this is a trend yet to catch on in London (watch this space). If I was being kind I would say that it hasn’t been a hit due to our weather: using that logic it’s impossible to eat inside. In reality it’s probably because too many of us are busy chucking too many pints into empty bellies waiting for the inevitable chippy or kebab binge on the bleary way home. Or this, combined with bars being too tight to consider the pleasure of their customers over that extra percent on their profit margins. Whatever the true reason, it’s unfounded, as aperitivo works an absolute dream at Wilton’s and any wise bar should follow their lead.   

Wilton’s is a breath of fresh air and has an unpretentious crowd devoid of the cock-stifling jeans so often seen in the area. It is the sort of suave and sophisticated place that you might have imagined you’d be going to when you entered early adulthood or later, having finally grown up to appreciate life’s more subtle pleasures. Go here at least once to add sheen to the bleak reality that you’re stuck in a cycle of doing the same things, as I found out when I muttered on the way out,  ‘all I want is a filthy kebab and a can of Red Stripe’ – ruining such a pleasant hiatus in the real world of cultured and functioning humans. 

O.C With thanks to Katie from KBfoodphotos for photos, company, indulging morons like us and generally making this blog a lot less rubbish. You can follow her @kasiakatie.

Wilton's Music Hall
1 Graces Alley
E1 8JB

020 7702 2789

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  1. I have attended all types of concerts including recitals, chamber music, and orchestras. This place sometimes fascinates me with its great ventilation and vibrant atmosphere.

  2. I really like this bar venue, even I also looking for good and beautiful live music bar in nyc. If you know anyone bar there then please recommend it to me.