Walking into Annie The Owl, in its top secret blacked-out location flanked by security guards, I was still convinced it was all a giant hoax designed as a parody of Shoreditch nightlife.
But no, there was the exposed brickwork and requisite low filament bulb lighting - this was the real deal.
If the concept wasn't drawn at random from a tombola, I'm guessing the first meeting of its founders went down something like this:
"Dude we've got to cash in on this animal-stroking tip everyone's on. Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium is killing it…House of Hounds is opening soon…what other cute animals do these suckers not have room for in their 10-square foot apartments?"
"We don't have the technology."
"Love it. Get me Barclay's on the phone."
A frightening 100,000 people applied for tickets for the opening, but a victim of its own pre-hype, Annie the Owl had to scale back its plans after animal activists and nearly 30,000 petition signees called for its closure due to concerns over alcohol being served at the venue, the owls' welfare and a general uneasiness over the pimping of birds of prey.
Organisers replaced cocktails for smoothies on the menu in the hope of appeasing its detractors, which was probably a good thing if it means one less owl has to have 'Uptown Funk' drunkenly shouted in its face, but made the bar's experience even more odd.
(Slo-mo GIF of me getting slapped by an owl)
Here's an exhaustive list of what is inside Annie the Owl:
Tables, chairs, owls, Ikea-esque owl art and a table laden with Alpro Soya cartons on which smoothies are blended (when the owls aren't in the vicinity.)
And here's my notes from the launch in full:
In fairness, all of the rules were enforced for the well-being of the owls, which were handled very carefully by the trainers, though they did seem to take a dislike to waitresses walking around and the low-volume Hozier on in the background - one owl at one point taking flight and perching in the rafters.
The owls were pretty. The smoothie was nice (kale-based, naturally), but the feeling of 'where the f*ck am I?' was palpable and persistent.
At one point, shortly after trying to stare-out a barn owl eying up my canapés (below), I felt a bit of a dick for despairing of the café when I saw a little girl in an owl cardigan having the absolute time of her life while holding the birds and learning about them from the trainers.
But would she not have been better off just going to see them at a sanctuary?
I wandered home, past the cat café a few doors down that also has a long waiting list, and wondered where this trend will end. Can I get funding for a karaoke bar where you have to sing Whitney Houston while a bear tries to maul you? A restaurant where you eat the cow while it's still alive?
London's animal bar trend may truly have just jumped the shark/owl.
@christophhooton (I realise the irony of my surname)
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