Three drop into the Atlantic: This season's hot spot is big and beautiful and open till three. Helen Nowicka descends

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It is a month since Oliver Peyton opened the Atlantic Bar and Grill and apart from a few minor hitches, everything is going to plan.

Queues form outside; people plead with Alex the doorman, and grumble as those with dinner reservations breeze past. Celebrity spotters mention Rifat Ozbek, John Galliano, Ben Elton, and Kate Moss.

True, the place gets fearsomely hot and smokey, and true, some customers complain about the lengthy wait for expensive drinks at the main bar, but this does not deter the glamour babes in A-line mini-dresses or cheekboned men with tight T-shirts and muscular torsos; this is the place of the moment. You don't have to be a member and you can drink here until 3am.

The Atlantic's success is Oliver Peyton's dream come true.

Dark-haired, Irish, soft-spoken and not unreminiscent of Gabriel Byrne, he has had his style victories before; he it was who introduced Absolut vodka and Sapporo lager to fashion-conscious Brits.

He is also the man behind the RAW club in the basement of the YMCA on Tottenham Court Road which hosts some of the most glamorous - and elitist - events in London.

But the Atlantic is something altogether more . . . oceanic.

'There is a gaping hole in the market for some place which isn't a members club but where there are nice surroundings.

'A lot of people who run bars and restaurants are from an older generation, this is not their market.

'There is a new generation of people; they are in their 20s and 30s but they aren't being catered for in a proper way. People want to be seen.'

Last year he found his spot - at the Regent Palace Hotel, where a massive former dining room complete with art deco light fittings, marble pillars and 40-ft high ceilings was being used for storage.

Backing came from three City contacts who between them have put up more than pounds 500,000.

The reclaimed rooms have been converted into a main bar and restaurant area, with diners separated from drinkers by a long crescent bar, and a smaller cocktail lounge. A third bar is planned.

There was no advertising before the opening - of course not.

Word spread and on the first night beautiful people were competing to get in.

Peyton sees the Atlantic as a democracy - 'It's where Lord X can sit next to his hairdresser.' Perhaps so. It is big and you don't have to join, rather in the way of Quaglino's, Conran's attempt at a big Paris-style mid-town bistro. Or perhaps not.

'This is nothing like Quaglino's, please don't say that. Quaglino's is the sort of place where you could go seven nights a week and not see the same people. I want to look after our regular customers.'

On Friday the place was busy from early evening with the after work crowd, most popping in for a drink before heading elsewhere.

A straw poll threw up advertising executives, a film producer, an investment banker and the head of an import retail firm.

Gary Towning, 33, managing director of Zona Virtual Reality, was on his second visit because the first time he had been brought by a friend. 'I met the most wonderful girl - you're not married are you?' He described himself and his drinking partner, financier Julian Wannell, 31, as 'Chelsea hooray wankers' who liked the Atlantic because 'here no one knows us.'

Dressed in a blue blazer and striped shirt, Gary said: 'I'll be out of here by 9pm because by then it will be full of the three Ws - Watford, Wimbledon and Walthamstow. In a month we won't come here because it will be full of tossers.'

By 10pm the Atlantic had come into its own.

The dining tables were full, clubwear and expensive fashions had replaced the shirt and tie brigade and the previously empty lobby had attracted the odd snogging couple. Club runners and clothes designers had joined the white collar crowd, and the proliferation of empty ice buckets demonstrated that champagne at pounds 25 a bottle was a popular buy.

Hairdresser David Gillson, 27, had come from Quaglino's, planned to drink late and would think about going on to a club.

A striking peroxide blond well over 6 feet tall and wearing a full-length skirt, he felt the Atlantic was the venue of the future.

'In the late 80s and early 90s people went to grotty clubs, took so many drugs, and didn't talk to each other. I just feel I don't need that any more. I'm a motormouth, I like to talk to people and this appeals to me. It's not perfect, it's too overcrowded and there are too many people in suits.'

Lea Harrison, 26, a club promoter, was confident the venue was assured a sound future.

'The Atlantic won't burn itself out, it will work. Everyone comes here thinking it's a bit special.' His companion, Emma Daniels, a Euro bond dealer, was confident the 'three Ws' would not discover the Atlantic.

'It's not obvious, you could miss the entrance. If you were up from the suburbs you could walk straight past.'

However, Mr Peyton has his terrors - call them suburbanites. He prays they are not heading his way. As he put it, 'If we get bridge and tunnel we're finished.'

The Atlantic Bar and Grill, Glasshouse Street, W1

JAMES COLLARD: NOT AN ARM AND A LEG, JUST AN ARM

The lobby has a sort of carpet-bagger glitz to it - the chandelier is just a little too large for the space, displaced, as if it has been looted by the Yankies from some plantation-house ballroom and installed in the hallway of a nicer class of knocking shop. True products of our time, we take grandeur where we can find it and with a feeling just this side of awe we walk into Dick's Bar and head straight for the cocktail counter. To our left a businessman is buying Brandy Alexanders for a woman who is, in my grandmother's phrase, 'no better than she should be'. To our right, some suits are drinking Sea-Breezes. So far, so good, but Dick's Bar resembles a high class airport departure lounge. Swissair perhaps. An air of rather plush expectation reigns. For a start, Lisa and I are still waiting for a drink, whilst the barman serves folks with the troubled look of someone working out how to pay his electricity bill. After a few minutes we give up vying for his attention and stroll through to the next room.

Suddenly we are surrounded by smart young people sprawled across massive sofas, amidst bustle, glamour, gilt and high ceilings. Only Pam Hogg is rushing past, to make a telephone call, all yellow hair and joie de vivre. 'This is more like it,' I say to Lisa as we get our vodka and tonics at the bar, and in sibilant tones a tanned young choirboy beside us agrees. 'Yes, this is where we're meant to be,' he declares. Lisa, oblivious to the fact that this cherubic creature is Jasper Conran, drawls: 'Mmmm, I've got my eyes peeled for celebrities.' Jasper continues to beam seraphically, and I forbear to tell him that I used to sell lamp-shades for his father. It hardly seems the time or the place.

So we look around us. In fact, we can't stop looking, feasting ourselves on people as we consume gorgeous lobster ravioli in consomme and chicken with morels. True, one bit of chicken (about 19 I'd say, and cheerfully devoid of morals) chain-smokes Embassy and makes eyes at a man twice his age, and there's a fast looking blonde in a nightmare frock and cowhide waistcoat. But for the most part these people are a young, fashionable crowd. If I add the word 'mixed' crowd I'll make the Atlantic sound more like a nightclub than a bar-restaurant, and I won't be far wrong. The Atlantic is a pleasant surprise, the sort of place you'd think would cost an arm and a leg, so when it just costs an arm (pounds 60 for the meal, pounds 12 at the bar) you really don't mind at all.

JOHN WALSH: CAN IT BE A SIGN OF lONDON FINALLY GROWING UP?

'In three months' time, said the man from Hello] magazine, gazing helplessly round at the noble walls, the rabbiting clientele and the marble pillars of the Atlantic Bar and Grill, 'this place'll be finished.

Myself I loved it. I'd take anyone there provided they were prepared to eat, drink, flirt, talk and show off to the utmost they could manage. It's a place of tremendous energy. Its very dimensions encourage you to feats of social endeavour hitherto undreamt of. Like Orso, it has no windows and runs the risk of seeming claustrophobic; instead it feels like a large-scale snug. Placing the bar beside the restaurant should be a recipe for indigestible noise and drunken clamour; but at your table you can hear every word your companion is saying. I think I've cracked its appeal: the Atlantic is London's number one Speakeasy.

The people? Well, yeah, there was Jasper Conran at the bar, and Dave Stewart from Eurythmics at one of the banquette seats (strange how smug they all looked, the banqueurs) and Lucy Ferry, looking around and saying 'Well I don't think it's all that fantastic. . . . But then it was a Monday night and, you know, quiet. . . But among the second or third division of faces, a chap in a blue wire-and-chiffon hat, cut on the bias, chattered theatrically with an unshaven Keith Allen wannabe in leathers. Between the bar and the grill, you see, is the important hinterland where you can strike cool poses before a seated audience of semi-grudging spectators and get away with it.

When we left, around midnight, things were becoming a little unloosened. The Blue Hat Man had legged it into the night, but his place as the cynosure of attention had been taken by the table of babes on the left of the main entrance. Sleepy, luxuriant, straggle-haired and quite possibly in the grip of a mild hallucinogen they lolled and smiled a what's-your-hurry smile at passers-by.

On the way out we said 'Hi' to the manager, Oliver, who was introduced to the extremes of arty London nighttown by his chum Liam Carson, the outgoing manager of the Groucho Club. Oliver was dealing with an oily hack. 'You realise, he began, 'I'm reviewing your place for. . .

'Jesus, no, Oliver ungratefully groaned, 'Not you too. Couldn't you just leave us alone for a few weeks.

But of course he couldn't. Not when it's hot, gorgeous, sexy, and open till 3 am. Can it be a sign of London finally growing up?

(Photograph omitted)

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