I'm a freelance writer based in South West London, but i'm frequently travelling. Stay tuned! I pop up in the strangest places.
Published September 15th 2012
Chill out music bar
When I first went backpacking in Australia, I was absolutely amazed by how much live music there was. It was everywhere, at all times of day. Pouring out of cafés and restaurants, on the beaches, in parks, on rooftops and even in small, hole-in-the-wall bars. You literally couldn't move down a high street of any town without hearing a guitar string plucked, a drum slapped, a violin sing, or even a beautiful voice trilling in harmony with the music, enticing you to linger.
Image from Piano Kensington website
. My favourite bars were in Brisbane, small, cozy places that served good beers, nice food and always had a live band playing music that everyone could sing to. It felt comforting and homely, as if I'd been invited over to a friend's house to join in a sing song. Everyone was friendly and ready to chat to you whether you wanted them to or not. They'd even come and join you if they saw you sitting alone to ask you why! They were my favourite evening haunts, a place where I could meet and make friends, a place to chill. No worries mate!
Returning to London after six months of travelling I felt a little nostalgic, and walking down the streets, I realized what was missing and asked myself "Where is the music?" I missed the tunes and I wanted it back. Unfortunately, London isn't a very musical city in that regard. Finding a café to sit in morning or mid day with a coffee and listen to a guitarist singing his latest song in a corner is quite a rarity. So I soon realized I had to look for something nocturnal.
Finding a bar that you can just chill out in for the evening can get a bit challenging in West London. Of course, to hear Londoners tell it, we have the best nightlife in all of Europe. Some would stretch to including the entire world. There are loads of bars in Notting Hill, Soho and even Clapham Juction that offer live music gigs, but most of the ones I've found are almost always in shady nightclub basements that only serve over-priced drinks and no food, and where the music is too loud, the people are too drunk and you are expected to join in the frenzy. It seems that live music in cafés and pubs is not as popular or even sought after in the UK, which makes me feel like Londoners are missing out of something amazing. However, a chance find made me change my mind.
The Piano Bar is a hole-in- the-wall bar on High Street Kensington. The entrance is placed directly opposite the underground station, squashed between a McDonalds and a 'Specsavers'. It's so easy to miss that one might think it was the entrance to 'Diagon Alley' as people even staring straight at the door are unable to register what it is. But once you climb the stairs and enter the bar you are transported into a music 'living room'.
The room itself is on the second floor of the building. It's very long and narrow, all painted in a moody black, with the bar and kitchens at one end, and a grand piano near the window at the other. In between are some long sofas that hug the wall with some small round tables and stools arranged to squash as many people in as possible. There is hardly any room for dancing but everyone manages to stand up when they hear a familiar song and dance on the spot.
I took my husband there for his birthday and we were absolutely thrilled with the atmosphere. We were able to order food from the bar from a full restaurant menu, the drinks were reasonably priced (£4 for a beer, £15 for a bottle of wine), the people were all friendly, (almost sitting on some stranger's lap made for a great conversation starter) and the best part was that as soon as the clock struck 7, a pianist and singer took his/her place at the instrument and began singing a medley of well known and completely unknown tunes.
They would sing about ten songs, then have a half hour break, in which time the stereo would be turned on and some 'London favourites' would be played, then the musicians would take their place again and carry on where they left off. Everyone in the bar would chat with the pianist, requesting songs, and some would come up and sing duets while others would just suddenly break into spontaneous dance as soon as 'American Pie' or 'Valerie' was played.
The music was loud, but not so loud to make conversation impossible. We both made some really good friends there, and still do. The staff are well trained and very good fun and they know how to throw great birthdays, hen do's and even stag do's!
I'd recommend this bar to anyone who wants a local with a bit of a difference.