Cafe Society: Station to station

Wherever you go the world over, there is one thing you can gurarantee: that if you travel by train, the first impression you will get of a city is that it is run-down, dirty, unusually ugly and crammed with the sort of people you don't want your mum - and she doesn't want you - to see too much of.

Human nature seems to find it hard to invest much love in an area where millions go, but few stay. And yet those millions who pass through our railway stations could do with somewhere civilised to park their bones, wait for their mates, or while away the dreary hours while Railtrack clears the wrong sort of leaves off the track and puts the right ones down. And that's where things get tricky.

I decided to try to get some of that added value we hear so much about and find a meeting-place near each of London's great railway termini. Error. Through my Prozac haze, the day comes back to me as a Hogarthian patchwork of winos, sturdy beggars, women of the night, and grease, interspersed with hours reading "poems" on the Underground. And drifting through the gloom is a surprising gem on the upper level of the heavily sanitised Liverpool Street station - Hamilton Hall. Wetherspoon pub it may be, but there's more to it than that.

It's an artwork in itself, a ballroom for the damned, a deconsecrated Maltese cathedral. Rich turquoise walls are surmounted, 40ft up, by a frieze of cavorting bodies, their naked tummies picked out in Barbie- doll flesh tones, slatherings of gold providing a rich contrast with the knackered-looking folk below. A balcony gives non-smokers the opportunity to feel superior to the nicoteenies in the huge empty space below. If there's a criticism to be made, it's that I'd thought that the era of drinking pints while standing up had long since gone.

In a second, equally absurd room, where the plasterwork has been painted a ghastly mahogany, there is a wine bar filled with high-stool tables and a surprising number of women drinking Australian chardonnay and noshing on baguettes.

What makes this stand out from other station bars, though, is that it obviously caters not only for the itinerant trade, but also for the local office workers.

Hamilton Hall, Liverpool Street Station, EC2 (0171-247 3579)

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