MPs' bar familiar with rowdy scenes


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Indy Politics

The Strangers Bar - scene of an alleged brawl last night - has for long been the rowdiest bar in the Palace of Westminster, with the possible exception of the Press Bar.

It has for long been nicknamed either The Stranglers or more frequently The Kremlin, because its patrons were more likely to be Labour MPs than anyone else.

And it gained a reputation as a kind of spit-and-sawdust venue, whose customers preferred pints of bitter to the more "sophisticated" drinks imbibed in other Westminster bars.

Sometimes jollifications degenerated into something ugly: I have seen MPs rolling around the floor in inebriated combat. But generally these scenes have been calmed down "in house" without any necessity to call the police.

There used to be a sign nailed to the wall, only three or four inches from the floor, bearing an arrow and the words: "Way out". When officials were asked why this sign was placed where it was, they replied: "It is to accommodate those who will be leaving on their hands and knees."

This bar is reserved for MPs who can invite outsiders (ie "strangers") in as their guests. But the guests are barred from buying drinks.

Recently, the Strangers Bar has been relocated a little way down the corridor. Its clientele has not changed much, but the decor is a trifle more upmarket than its predecessor's.

The drinking culture at Westminster has subsided somewhat since the introduction of so called "family friendly" sitting hours of the Commons.

But the situation in the bad old days was summed up by a taxi driver who picked up an MP and told him: "Good grief, sir. You're sober. You are the first person I have picked up at the House of Commons at this time of night for years who has not been verging on the paralytic."