City watering holes have long maintained a fusty style, but now some victuallers in the Square Mile are rebelling. Serena Mackesy checks out one of the new breed

As a means of maintaining the status quo, refusing to change the way you socialise is pretty effective. If your way of life is being threatened by outsiders - be it class, sex, or race outsiders - you can slow their advance by making them uncomfortable in your world.

The City has long provided evidence of this; its watering holes have for years exaggerated pseudo-traditional virtues to shore up the flagging confidence of the public schoolboy. Many of the wood-and-sawdust joints going today only opened in the early 1980s, when a female prime minister, American takeovers and Big Bang were making the coasters distinctly wall- eyed.

Gradually, though, even these monoliths are changing their ways. It is possible now to have a drink in the square mile without feeling like you've been savaged by a fox-hound. Among the new wave is Bar Excellence, a stone's throw from the Lloyd's building and surprisingly attractive while still retaining the dozen-types-of-champagne features so essential to squandering those billion-pound Christmas bonuses. Built in an old financial building, this stylish gaff combines light, space and a fair amount of design flair while still leaving people who dress to disappear feeling unexposed.

Among the deco chandeliers, stripped stone, garish stained- glass panels and white-gold panelling, you can almost believe that you're in New York. A huge range of wines and fizz rests in numbered bins behind the bar, and staff sport blousons, white shirts and little pinnies. They even have sofas, and the low-grade thump of the background music seems deliberately designed to drown the sound of mobile phones.

Nonetheless, it's disconcerting. It is obviously not the West End - people hang their coats up and simply walk away for a start - but neither do there seem to be many broken veins or strange men calling you "girls". Bit by bit, though, you focus again. Only in a place where people are perpetually tense would the sofas be the last places colonised, and here and there you catch sight of a young man sucking on a fat cigar. And everywhere, the discreet flash of gold, the fusty look of made-to-measure, the polite hum of the cocktail party. An odd experience, worth having at least once: a pleasant bar where you can find out what it's like to have a drink with a flock of geese.

Bar Excellence, 28 Cornhill, EC3 (0171-929 3989)

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