Newly opened Ray’s Bar in Dalston pulls off a difficult trick. Jammed in beneath Voodoo Ray’s pizza restaurant , this basement hangout eschews the tired aesthetic of the faux speakeasy (the line of least resistance if there’s an underground space to be filled with spirit quaffers) and opts for simplicity.
Beginning with dazzling mauve neon as the descent is made, a sense of heady unreality is born.
And this intoxication is just as well because the decor, which might well be called Disco Swimming Pool in Llewellyn-Bowen’s Bumper Book Of Bar Design, might otherwise be hard to take.
What isn’t, however, is the service which, from the moment we arrive, is strikingly pleasant, warm and tireless.
Throwing caution and hipster convention away, none of the industrious bar staff sports visible tattoos and appear more concerned with the skilful crafting of drinks than peacocking. Most refreshing.
The result is a glorious, green-lit dive without obvious pretension and a late licence that should do well with its plentiful low seating ripe to be filled with thirsty Dalstonites munching fiery pizza brought down from above (£26 for 22 inches).
At around 20 minutes via DLR and Overground to Dalston Junction from Canary Wharf, it’s also a serious contender for after-work-to-late-night drinking and an antidote to our comparatively sterile venues.
Sadly, while the four overpriced craft beers (around £5 for a bottle) fit the atmosphere perfectly, several of the cocktails that arrive are pungent enough to be unpleasant.
The Labyrinth (£11), for example, is a befuddling blend of mezcal, white cacao, vermouth and dark chocolate, arriving bitter and smoky into the mouth like the turd of the Goblin King.
And while the Pink Flamingo (£8) tastes alright, its spritz of rhubarb, Campari, Prosecco and Grapefruit is halitosis on the nose.
Still, it’s not all misery, as the Tunnel Dancer (£8) makes a fine job of taming its Laguvulin single malt with Jim Beam Double Oak, chilli and rhubarb bitters.
Quite what separating the list into aperitifs, mains and “The Finish” is supposed to achieve is unclear, especially as the massive pizzas are clearly a single course.
But Ray’s is the kind of place where such things don’t really matter.
Just kick back with a beer, have another slice and relax to the gentle strains of needle on vinyl.
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