Where shall we meet in Soho?

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The Independent Culture
Sometimes you get the weary feeling that you can't tell one Soho bar from another. Thanks to the ever-ready presence of the weekend Soho clone, up from the 'burbs ready to look their fellow drinkers up and down for a few hours before doing the same thing to fellow clubbers, these bars are now frighteningly predictable. The clone, after all, doesn't have much time for anything other than polished metal, a couple of "interesting" design tweaks daubed by some trustafarian friend of the owner, and a door policy that convinces everyone of its exclusivity throughout the full four weeks of its novelty value.

So I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by Kabaret. The place has gleaned so much Palmer-Windsor-Bowles-style coverage that I had dim expectations of the usual Soho thing, only posh to boot. In fact, on the night we dropped into this spaciously laid-out subterranean hangout, we were greeted by a relaxed crowd of professional middle-youthers, obviously relieved to be away from the usual media, advertising and PR juniors who tend to dominate the area.

There are, I think, two things that contribute to this: first, they don't open until 9.30pm, which cuts out the after-work and pre-bedtime crowd; and second, table service means the floor simply can't afford to be as crammed with surly 18- to 24-year-olds who don't see why they should let anyone else get past. Sitting on a corner banquette, we ploughed through a bottle of wine at pounds 15 (okay, but this is Soho on a Saturday) and a couple of cocktails, and waited for the cabaret to start. I don't know if we were lucky or otherwise, but no one appeared in the tiny back- wall enclosure in the hour or so we were there. Still, there was plenty of entertainment from watching other punters somersault backwards off the small pink pouffes that form the on-floor seating if they laughed too hard. Remarkably civilised.

Kabaret, 5 Upper John St, London W1 (0171-287 8111)



42 Dean St, W1 (0171-494 1966) Classy little cocktail bar with American bistro

The French House 49 Dean St, W1 (0171-437 2799) It's rare to get a seat, but the staff are adorable

The Yard Bar 57 Rupert St, W1 (0171-437 2652) Sunny Med-style gay bar