Cafe society: Freudian hip

A pleasant feature of the pre-club itinerary, Freud is a great venue for people-watching, but if you want to sit down before 9pm, think again

It's funny how long it takes to notice that fashions have passed. Hats, for instance. It's taken me all winter to notice that no-one wears them now. A couple of years ago you would never have felt comfortable in a bar like Freud if your locks weren't wrapped in, at the very minimum, a beanie. In the current climate, the clientele of this basement would probably burst out laughing if they caught one of their fellow drinkers with their head covered. What you need now in order not to stand out is some conspicuous body piercing: lip or eyebrow, noses only for wimps.

It's a nice place, Freud: trendy, but not that pretentious. Its position, just outside Covent Garden, at the tippy-top of Neal St and below a frightfully of-the-moment gallery space, guarantees a certain creative approach in the people who drink there while avoiding the worst characteristics of the chrome crowd. A long, thin basement, it's restfully decorated in shades of terracotta and the odd interesting artwork, and, before nine o'clock, completely chokka with the kind of people who seem to order incredibly complicated cocktails containing ingredients that the staff have to nip to the corner shop for, like milk.

As a result, and because there are never quite enough staff, it takes hours to get served; arm yourself with bar charisma and enough dough to buy two rounds at once - cocktails cost about pounds 4 - and scatter your friends about the place in case a table becomes free - your rush-hour skills will come in useful should such an event occur.

Once, however, you've done this - and the two tables at the far end, one on a podium and one slightly raised on the narrowest benches in London, provide the best vantage points - this is a top place for people-watching. In any evening, you are likely to see: one pierced-tongue snog, drama students about to burst into song (fortunately the background music helps in this respect), two girls trip up the stone stairs leading to the ladies and half a dozen people discover that if they put their drink down on the end of the bar, it will get cleared away.

Freud, 198 Shaftesbury Ave, WC2 (0171-240 9933)

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