venue reviews

Water Rats Grays Inn Road, London

Woo! The Water Rats, once a slightly scummy old geezer pub near Kings Cross, is scrabbling up market. The walls have been painted a palm court-esque shade of soothing pale mint green, there are potted plants and (gulp) fresh flowers on the bar. On the tables are little cardboard menus informing us that we are sitting in a 'café, bar and theatre all in one'. In an attempt to catch the eye of… er, business suits? ladies who lunch?? the menu suggests we pop in for 'morning coffee, cakes and croissant', just the one? There's the ubiquitous big squidgey leather sofa 'n' coffee table combos for oh so moderne urban lounging (I think you'll find the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel did this, looong before the current 'we want you to think of this as your home' Starbucksification of every saddo café and bar). Where once there was comforting shabbiness, there is now a disquieting attempt at sleekness. Even the door leading to the stairs (toilets down there, quite spacious cubicles with alluring blue and white patterned tiling) is all pine with etched glass.

There are also huuge windows allowing all and sundry to have a good old peer in as they stroll down Grays Inn road. Kitten once went past and saw what looked like a big gang of mayors all in ceremonial dress having a bit of a knees up in there. Maybe it was the 'Grand Order of Water Rats' who according to a sign on the door are based here. I'm sure those windows never used to be quite such vast expanses of stare-throughableness, didn't there used to be curtains or something? At least it means you can check things out before deciding to enter the fray.

This is, when it comes down to it, still indie gigsville, so happily you still have to pay a man sitting at a wobbly desk by the door to get your hand stamped on the way in. The bar still serves normal pints, too. Hmm, all very pleasant, but where's the band and what's with this 'theatre' malarkey, then? Ah, yes, glad you asked. Up those steps (useful for sitting on) at the back of the room is a set of double doors, and every time someone opens them there's a blast of noise, er, I mean music. That back room is where the bands play and is also (rather jumped-uply) referred to as a theatre. Don't know why. It takes more than a bit of pink velvet curtainage and some electric chandeliers to make a theatre you know. Maybe it's a historical thing.

Anyway, through here in the theatre the room is on two levels. Something's happened to the balustrade that used to separate the upper and lower sections. I'm sure it used to run all the way along with a break in the middle for some steps, most convenient for leaning. Now there's hardly any leaning bar left and loads of scope to fall down the wide expanse of step that's been opened up. You can lurk in the dark at the back on this raised bit and also have easy access to the bar which, rather handily, extends through from next door*.

Okay, so now we're down on the 'dancefloor' bit in front of the tiny two feet high stage, flanked by ornamental pillar things. Here you can catch the startled whites of a young support bands eyes, and smell the fear when equipment breaks down and they're suddenly faced with a gaping void to fill before the rather close audience clambers up there and has a go themselves.

I saw Supergrass here you know, when they were young and dumb and good spammy fun. All wild eyes and careening songs. Also check out the inside sleeve of '(Come On Join) The High Society' by These Animal Men. There they are playing their little eyeliner 'n' Adidas socks off at this very venue in front of a grinning and sweaty Kitten (not pictured as I was trying to avoid the flailing bloody-nosed NWONW boys at the front).

This is also the setting for Kitten's accidental first ever encounter with Super Furry Animals at their first ever gig in London. Steve Lamacq always goes on about seeing them here, but we turned up in the middle of the set and Lamacq came flying out the front door to take over our recently vacated cab and asking us if we knew if Blur had started playing at The Dublin Castle yet (they were doing that special 'secret' tiny gig there.) So he didn't stick around for much of the lovely Furries. We were also mightily entertained to find an SFA set-list with the words 'get wasted, yeah!' at the bottom. It touched our hearts to think of these wide-eyed Welsh lads visiting the big bad city. Obviously at the time we didn't know their dementedness was probably more than a match for anything London could throw at them. In fact, now I think about it, I could be missing the next great Furrytastic band there at this very moment. Excuse me, I'm off for a pint and a croissant.
*Hmmm, this is no longer the case. This side of the bar is now taken up by the sound 'desk'. this means you can't even perch on it in a drunken attempt to see what's happening onstage. Er, I heard that's what used to happen.


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