Following its relaunch in March, the BFI (formerly the NFT, formerly still a grey old restaurant that you’d scoot past on the way to aThames view) has taken on a completely new character.
As the National Film Theatre, it boasted refreshments in the form of lukewarm tea and coffee – drunk huddling outside the glum façade gazing at the choppy Thames in the hope that the virtue of Doing Art would keep you warm. Now, the British Film Institute has turned its back – or at least its side – on all that.
It is a bold South Bank venue that doesn’t even offer a view of the river. Situated at the side of the building, half in its grand foyer, the bar at the swish new BFI offers Class-A people-watching in place of Thameside views. It also offers stripy sofas, Moretti (and plenty of other beers) on tap, a“pint of sausage rolls” for £3 and apparently “the best Bloody Mary on the South Bank”. I don’t know about that (though I shall endeavour to find out), but the size is encouraging. The barman makes it with love, then waits for you to gulp some down so he can top it up with the leftovers – don’t you hate it when they just fling the cocktail shaker into the sink? Naturally, the clientele are busy writing screenplays in their Paul Smith stripy notebooks (which match the stripy chairs), and a pleasing “bing bong” occasionally announces the start of a film. Oh, did I mention the BFI shows films,too? But first you have to leave the bar....
Benugo – the British Film Institute, South Bank, London