Drink: Social welfare

Muso types will think they've gone to heaven at The Social, a bar that looks like a hip club, but feels like a friendly local
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Indy Lifestyle Online
London's once chemically driven coterie of music-lovers, now graduating from pill popping to sedentary lager drinking, has a robustly unpretentious bar to call its own. Heavenly Records (the label which first signed the Manic Street Preachers, and on which you'll find Beth Orton) begat the Heavenly Social Club nights at Smithfield and later at Turnmills in Clerkenwell. It recently set up The Social, a permanent home for musicians such as Orton - who declares it a favourite hangout - and for the Heavenly hard- core. In The Social, which is run in partnership with the Breakfast Group (owners of Saint, Jerusalem, Bar Rumba and The Annexe), it has created an off-West End bar that's a little like a local, and a lot like a club - not, for once, the selective membership sort.

The mould-altering premises, by architects Adjaye and Russell - who also did Alexander McQueen's London pad - contains two distinct floors. In the downstairs club, industrial materials such as Luxcrete, cast concrete and glass-reinforced plastic are tough enough to withstand the crush generated by the popular DJ and acoustic sessions.

The ground-floor bar is panelled, sauna-style, in American oak and intended as an open-all-day, cosy, if minimalist pub, not a posing joint. Low-slung toffee-coloured leather booths arranged around lounge tables each have their own dimmer switch for an overhead light bulb. Anyone is welcome here; regulars can keep their own bottle of spirits behind the bar. And the jukebox at one end is "the best jukebox you're ever going to hear", according to manager Sarah Warwicker.

Bar staff are cocktail-trained, but they're seldom called upon to pull out the stops. This place is a hangout, a place to drink ... pints. Lots of them. Pints of what? Red Stripe, sales of which outstrip everything else. It is available on draught, along with Miller and Guinness. "Draught Guinness is a good thing to have in a local pub," says Warwicker. To save return trips to the bar, eight bottles of Bohemia Czech lager, served in a trough with ice, can be had for the price of six. There are bottles of Cobra and Tiger, Stella and Hoegaarden, Old Speckled Hen and Westons cider, too. And a line-up of malt whiskies, rums and tequilas. But the spirit this approachable crowd is most willing to drink is the house vodka, Absolut.

The Social, 5 Little Portland Street, London W1, telephone 0171-636 4992. Open Mon-Sat noon-midnight, Sun 5-10.30pm

Captions: Vodka Red Bull

Absolut vodka and Red Bull is one of The Social's most popular drinks, even at pounds 4.60. The combination was brought back to London by bartenders who went skiing in Austria, the home of the "functional" fizzy drink full of caffeine and vitamins. Since it managed to distinguish itself from Lucozade, clubbers have woken up to its attractions and the United Kingdom has become Red Bull's biggest market. Bartenders use it as a mixer; those who want a non-alcoholic energy-boost drink it on its own. At The Social it's almost always ordered with vodka, in a highball glass with ice. "It's a good socialising drink," says Sarah Warwicker. "It keeps you awake and going without the need to take anything else."

Bloody Mary

Pour a double measure of Absolut over ice in a highball glass. Fill up glass with tomato juice. Add a dash of Tabasco, a few drops of Worcester sauce, salt and pepper, and serve with a celery stick.

Although there are several different schools of thought about mixing Bloody Marys, The Social's method is characteristically simple and served without frills.

Red Stripe

The national lager of Jamaica is brewed in Bedford with American yeast and hops instead of the Germanic ingredients we're used to in lagers. Once a cult drink to be found mainly at the Notting Hill Carnival, it has become the musician's beer and is now one of the five top-selling lagers. At The Social they can't get enough of it. "It's the beer I drink wherever I find it," says bar manager Tim Brooks. "It's easy to drink but not as bland as some." The Social sells it for pounds 2.70 a pint - in a straight glass.

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