Sunday, 21 February 2010

Being 'Bettied'..vintage hair with flair.

I have never, ever, hankered after natural, healthy, unstructured hair. I grew up in the age of the Partridge Family, tabards, space-hoppers and David Cassidy. Therefore I actively dislike the 'Virgin Suicide' style. I am bored by the concept of blande, beige, dun, muddy coloured hair flopping down one's shoulders. It is the styling of my grandmother's generation that appeals, the curls, the up-do's, the rolls and flicks. The first thing I did upon becoming 13, and in my eyes a 'teenager', was to buy a bottle of jet black L'Oreal Recital and eliminate the dull brown locks I was cursed with. My father said I resembled a witch; I was delighted.

In a world of Kate Moss wannabees, Cheryl Cole add-ons and vast swathes of blonde highlights it is very difficult to find a hairdresser that gets, what you want them to get. For a couple of years now my locks have been tended by Miss Betty whose salon is in Kingly Court. I found her by word of mouth. I was complaining that I had to order hairdressers to cut my fringe, and that when they did, they would soften it, to make me look 'younger' grrrr. So determined was I that I marched into Betty's with hair half way down my back and demanded a chin length bob. Which I got, excellently cut and with no prevarication. I went back last Saturday to get my (now fiery red) locks touched up and my hair styled. I have bravely posted the before and after pictures below:



The Salon itself is a pleasure, no sterile reaches of white ceramics and mirrors, so you don't feel like you are being coiffed in an abbatoire. Rather Miss Betty's parlour is highly feminine, all red velvet and black chandeliers. The pictures on the walls of glamorous screen legends and rockabilly hussies are better than rows of asinine pictures of gormless looking models. What stands out the most is that you do not feel isolated from other users of the salon, on Saturdays it is busy but you feel that you can chat with others, or not, as you wish. It also makes a difference that whilst you wait you actually get to listen to good music. I repeat GOOD music, it's a bug bear of mine, the classic modern hairdresser's obsession with Beyonce, Jamiroquai, Girls Aloud and Robbie Williams arrrrggghh! I end up wanting to grab the clippers from the hairdresser and run out with a shaved head just to get away from the noise.

Interior of Miss Betty's

Betty's main interest lies in styling rockabilly/fifties hair and previously having had a salon in Toulouse she is well known in that subculture. I also like the fact, and I don't think this is because English is her second language, that she is clear and straightforward and will tell you when she thinks something will or won't suit you. No flim-flam. I'm not, perhaps, her classic customer but she knows how vintage glamour works. You come out of the salon with seriously glamorous grown up hair. After leaving her salon I went off to meet Torquil Arbuthnot and Katie Chutzpah in Mayfair. In New Bond Street I heard someone say as I passed 'she's probably here for London Fashion Week'..entirely down to Betty's styling.

Another view of the interior of the beauty parlour.

An element of the salon that I enjoy is the fact that Betty shares it with her partner, retro/rocker barber Mr Ducktail. In fact his barbershop 'Something Hells' takes up the front part of the establishment. His expertise attracts a steady stream of gentlemen (and the occasional lady) who wants the perfect quiff or DA. This means there are usually a few nice looking young men hanging around, never a bad thing. In fact there was a very special young man in the salon on Saturday, Betty's 10 week old bulldog puppy Elvis; the cutest thing ever.

Interior of Something Hells, Mr Ducktail's barber shop.

One of Betty's up do's (taken at the Chap Olympics), it stayed up for days...

Now that's what I call a fringe!

Retro-hair is not for everyone, you do get looked at (surely the point?) and when not around experts like Betty you end up battling with rollers, stuck with more pins that a zombie doll and drenched in Elnett. However stylists like Betty make life a lot easier, and you know where to go for that knock-out hairstyle when you need it. I have sent several friends to her and they have always looked fantastic. So if you are in London and want killer hair you know where to go. No excuses!

Miss Betty's Beauty Parlour.

Tel: 0207 287 0241

Home page:

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Alternative Rules of Seduction for the Chapette.

A bit of fun...this utterly personal list was composed in reaction to the reactionary dating guide copied on the blog below:

Ladies, you may agree or disagree, but despite very average looks and some discrimination I have seldom been single!

1) Fiddle with your underpinnings if they are pretty; but not your nose.

2) Drink as much as you want, teetotal vs trollied? the latter wins every time.

3) If he is boring, find someone else. The waiter will do.

4) Talk about your frock, why not? you have had to listen to a long tale about the provenance of his favourite cufflinks. If he doesn't have cufflinks talk to the waiter instead.

5) Any man who objects to launderable objects being covered with lipstick is either a lunatic, or married or quite possibly both.

6) Dominate the conversation if the gentleman is going to inanely blather on about cars/military campaigns/cricket/the empire. Dogs are a safe subject if the man is not completely hopeless, or more unnaturally; a cat-lover.

7) Tell dirty jokes. Japanese geisha have to memorise hundreds.

8) Eat decent calorific food. No appetite equals, well, no appetite. Girls who eat chips butties are best. Bugs and cows eat salad.

9) Be on time. Lateness is just idiotic.

10) Steal their food from their plates without asking , they need something to complain about regarding the opposite sex. This feeds their natural need to feel picked upon and feeds you.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Double R Club.

I am a bit tardy reviewing this as I actually went to it last month! This is undoubtably one of the most entertaining cabaret nights taking place in London at the moment. And I am not only saying this because I really like the organisers (even though I do!). Again something to tempt me away from my native South London and much loved Soho to Bethnal Green Working Men's Club.

The Double R Club is, despite it's moniker, nothing directly to do with the Kray Brothers, although they may have known the area and may have enjoyed the evening. Rather the inspiration is taken from the strange twilight world of David Lynch's film ouvre, although arguably the look is more Blue Velvet than Elephant Man. However one of it's co-founders, the entertaining Rose Thorne has a burlesque act featuring the latter character, in a sense. Moreover some of the acts are dark in a music hall sense rather than in that strange American gothic vein seen in films such as Mulholland Drive.

Your host for the evening: Benjamin Louche.
Your host, and the paraffin glue that holds the night together is host Benjamin Louche, effectively channelling Dean Stockwell via Mark Almond with a nice line in obscenity. He introduces, performs and links the cabaret acts with panache, exhorting the audience to sing 'Lollipop, Lollipop', reading creepy poems and enthusiastically promoting the catchphrase 'so f*****g suave'. He works hard as this evening is particularly good value as the cabaret does not consist of a few girls tassel twirling and one singer but enough performances to fill two halves.

H P Lovebox croons..

I was particularly taken by the evening's crooner, Mr H P Lovebox, joining us from the tentacled slimy deeps to sing amongst other tunes, 'I want to do bad things to you' and 'Dance with me' although I am quite sure the latter deviated in lyrics considerably from the original. Great fun for lovers of the old creepy Misogynist demon fiddler himself. Another unique act involved a birdman lip synching in a curiously engaging way. The only time a cabaret act has resulted in having to fish pine nuts from my..ahem..decolletage. Othe acts included a singer, a couple of burlesque performers and a fire eater.

A birdman warbles....
There are a number of arch cabaret evenings in London at the moment. This one is notable for it's unexpected combination of conviviality and gothicism. Rose wanders around dispensing her (delicious) home made mini-doughnuts, Emerald Fontaine mans a booth dispensing coffee cherry cocktails and glittery biscuits to attendees. During the interval those who found a knitted doughnut (Rose can knit literally anything) under their seat were inveigled into climbing the stage to take part in a doughnut- eating contest. The audience are a mix, some are there as Lynch fans (as decent scores in the Lynchian quiz revealed), some as cabaret fans and others just for the atmosphere. The tables were booked largely by regulars even though this club has only taken place for a few months. The next one is the night after this missive, but they happen monthly. Should a night of dark mayhem, camp giggles and sweet things appeal it is a highly recommended way to spend an evening.

Last Days of Decadence, Shoreditch.

When The Last Days of Decadence first opened I was impressed by the fact they asked some beautiful people such as the lovely Lawrence Gullo to adorn their opening. Sensible as the club's schtick is that it intends to recall the style and elegance of the past. The venue has made a visible attempt to revive this in their interior, utilising decorative glass, veneered walls and art deco flourishes. This is more successful upstairs where there is an element of ocean liner lounge about the place. Downstairs, (due no doubt to the exigencies of providing a stage, mc booth and dancefloor) is less atmospheric. I have been here a couple of times, and apart from problems dealing with serving drinks to crowds, always seemingly a set back in most newish venues, have always quite liked it. Last Saturday, along with Torquil Arbuthnot of The Chap, the ever-stylish Fleur de Guerre and her beau I dropped in on the venue's flagship night: 'Saturdays at the Last Days of Decadence'.

One of the venue's stained glass windows.

I did this with some trepidation. Not because of either the organiser who seems on the ball, nor due to the cabaret acts which have, I have noticed, been of a continually high quality. The thing I am always worried about is crowd control. This is because I possess a prejudice. I have come to dislike the typical Hoxton/Shoreditch/Bethnal Green type. Most are really young, so there is that unescapable problem: many but not all people under the age of 22 have nothing much of interest to say about anything. Then there is the 'look', it is just rubbish. That skinny jean, stoopid pork pie hat, poor attempt at a beehive ingenue geldof/chung/Lott look is really incredibly...boring. Oh, and then there is the general entitled boorishness and the poshness. So basically every sinew of this Londoner's body wants to scream 'back to the Home Counties Scumbags!' oh, and stop complimenting me on my 'costume', just because I know how to brush my hair. Can't tho..because then I am being rude. The problem is that this talentless demographic dominate the Easty areas (all the really fashionable are now in Peckham rumour has it, hmmm) and decadent style + Hoxtonite is an oxymoron. Someone had actually warned a chum off entering LDD (as I shall now call it) as the occupants would 'point and laugh' at him.

The upstairs bar at LDD.

Pleasantly, my fears were unfounded. I thought the crowd on this particualar night were polite and pleasant. Not all were dressed to the nines, which was a shame but Valentine's night shenanigans might have robbed to club of some of it's more flamboyant regulars. There was also that missapprehension that decadent retro = wrapping some type of ribbon or band around your head: flapper. But it is better than wondering around in in some crappy jeans and urban outfitter designed tea towel. Not good to be snobby but I can't help it however I thought a lot of the girls looked really sweet. I was also charmed to enter the place and find a pianist playing wonderfully, I was even happier to find that the first cocktail I received, a white lady, was well mixed. I also liked the proper table cloths and thought the door staff efficient and friendly, even though the group of girls in front of us seemed to be checking in all their worldly posessions! I suspect that they had changed in a toilet on the way.

Seating in the upstairs bar.

The downsides were small and not uncommon. The choice of music played was spot-on, very good selection of 20's/30's/40's ditties; but wayyyy too loud. Once you have to yell at your companions any effort to be suave, louche or stylish is damned to failure, unless you are stranded on a sinking ocean liner. But this may be down to my advanced years. I didn't venture downstairs for the cabaret as I was familiar with the line-up, a good one again. It seemed ,when I poked my head down for a look, very crowded and lively so nothing wrong there. Sadly the cocktails chopped and changed in quality and speed of delivery once the bar was under pressure; all cocktails from a bar should be the same. But they were not cheating on the alcohol content, and I know how hard it is to produce cocktails at speed. A couple of bar meetings and that could be sorted.

Stained glass windows from the street entrance.

I'd summarise the evening as a worthwhile expedition from the West End, I think it is probably, in fact, the only worthwhile Saturday entertainment in the area. If you are brave enough to march your quiff/cravat/evening dress/victory rolls/sublime drag past some of the groups of young scruffy men from Guildford looking for 'edge' outside the other bars it's certainly worth an expedition. The quibbles were small, and this is as pleasant a place, and a lot pleasanter than many in Soho to spend the weekend. I think it is better suited to a party night out with friends than assignations. And those stained glass windows are terribly pretty. So all in all a thumbs up for this night and the club in general.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Hix,Nick and Dick..cocktails and cold cures.

Early this week I caught a stonking cold, I was recovering from its worst effects when I found myself with a day off work. The alternatives were: a) be sensible, go home, relax, drink herbal tea and aid recovery of my mental and physical capabilities. b) make the most of my liberty and carouse with a good friend in the West End. I didn't go home.

Red Leg's patented cure for all ills: fried veal.

We kicked off with the Wolseley for lunch, the intention being, well the kernel of an intention being, to have something with fruit, or vegetables feeding my recovering immune system. Then it wouldn't matter if I had a large glass of rose. And wine is good for you, surely. Self deception because the Wolseley isn't huge on healthy. Naturally I went for fried veal, but I did have some spinach, in some lovely butter. Did make me feel much better. I think I will eat Wiener Schnitzel immediately upon the arrival of sniffles, or wear it on my head. Having eaten, I did for a nanosecond consider, as it was hailing outside; going home. The nanosecond passed and instead I found myself helping my friend choose chocolates in Fortnums, we were served by a tall callow teenager who looked as if he felt we up to something. Perhaps giggly ladies running amok in Fortnums is unusual..shouldn't be. As we'd got the chocs, we had to get some champagne to go with them and my companion ran a number of choices by me. We plumped for Hix. In my case because I had never been there, I am aware it is really far too trendy for me, I can tell my mum I have seen a chef from the Telly and finally that for me the word 'Hix' sounds comfortably like 'Hicc'.

Sign directing you to the bar at Hix. I'd like it better if the fingers were the other way around.

Hix is on the Picaddilly end of the ever unsalubrious Brewer Street, to get in you have to push a big wooden door that was worryingly like the one that almost killed me at Trinity. The Bar is downstairs and the sign above directs you. The bar itself is a curious room, very high ceilinged compared to most Soho basements. Decor wise it had an eclectic mid-century eclectic shoreditchy vibe. But there were things to like, bar billiards for one: there is nothing quite like the sight of those little shiny wooden mushrooms to cheer you up. The kitchens could be glimpsed through a door to the side of the bar, but the bar itself was long, full of bottles and looked like a working bar. By this I mean the bottles of most of the things might actually come off the shelves occasionally and be used, rather than sitting there being dusted. A bartender I met in Japan complained that he hated the keeping of uneccessary bottles in bars, but you can't trust that lot, all that tatami and minimalism. Hix's bar is manned by a well known bartender called Nick Strangeways who has an uncanny resemblance to the Wynd brothers. He was there whilst we supped our champagne. This was served in champagne bowls which was another good thing about the place, I really don't like flutes, they seem frugal. This gentleman seemed fun and faintly louche, he fell up the stairs whilst saying hello to me and at one point was wearing the top of a monster cocktail shaker on his head. I didn't try any of the cocktails but want to. I liked the place, certainly in the afternoon it was a relaxing establishment. The one annoying little kid kept away from us..more or less...maybe it was aware that we were the kind of women who'd like to to have seen him impaled on a cocktail stick. Will go back, drink some cocktails and have some bar snacks. The bar snacks sounded flamboyant, but I didn't have the presence to nick the bar menu so I can't remember what they were. By that stage the veal, champagne and chocolates had lulled me into a state of cheerful forgetfulness.

Nick Strangeways without cocktail shaker cap fascinator.
Having met up with the bearded one we decided to go further along Brewer Street to Dick Bradsell's bar under the Mexican restaurant El Camino's. This was a contrast to Hix's. Small, intimate and simply decorated,the point here was the range of Margarita type concoctions and Dick himself. A bit of a legend (some of you will remember him from the Atlantic/Colony), but one of those straight forward self-deprecating ones who know they are good at what they do and don't feel the need to go on about it. He is also from the Isle of Wight, one of those places that bad things never come from. I had a good, straightforward Margarita of the kind that I used to knock back during various sojourns in Southern California. I have a photograph of myself behind a mountain of empty glasses in San Francisco's spanish bit and this was a glassful of the same stuff in the same kind of glass. The bearded one is currently testing White Ladys, Dick's one was delicious and well balanced (the sherbet/sharp/boozy ratio is tricky). The place got busier later on. Someone doused me with perfume that must have smelt nice on them, but smelt like loo freshener on me and didn't get on with my tequila at all but I've been covered with worse. Full marks for the music too.

A picture of Dick Bradsell I lifted from t'internet, he is not making a cocktail...

Some people don't know I was once a cocktail bartender myself. It was a long time ago, I am not an expert and don't recall most of the recipes. But I am aware that the extremely busy South London Restaurant I worked in produced good drinks, and at speed. The customers would be three deep from the bar on a Saturday and Sarf Londoners are not an easy clientele, for the best reason; they are fussy. Everything was spotlessly clean, full measures were always used and there was no time for flim-flam. What I find now is a lack of strength/crispness of flavour and a loss of texture. Too much syrup, not the right cream, powdered nutmeg, too much ice in shakers. I don't think cocktails are complicated, but like anything else seemingly simple they are really easy to muff up. There is a skill to making drinks that taste good, look good (and whilst I love a gaudy tropical cocktail and plastic monkeys simple is often best on that front) and don't take 10 minutes to appear. Some famous hotel bars could do with remembering this (yes, the Ritz, I am talking about your dodgy drinks and even dodgier service). Seems that the art of the well made cocktail is being appreciated again and that can only be a very good thing.


Related Posts with Thumbnails