Three Sheets, London. Those bar stools are fixed to the floor
When did bar furniture get so uncomfortable? I have a feeling that it has, by some reckoning existed for about 12,000 years. You can picture the scene, can’t you? One Neolithic man discovers that his fermented beverage doesn’t make you go blind and decides he can probably barter it with the guy next door for some wheat or some goat meat, so he calls over the garden fence and these two homo sapiens pull up a rock and sit down. Especially once that second fermented beverage really starts to kick in. Maybe three or four fermented beverages down the line they start to think about reclining – they might need a little more support – so they have a think about how they can construct something that will allow them to enjoy fermented beverage five or six in a little more comfort.
From there, we can rattle on to the ancient Greeks and then the Romans reclining in their triclinia during their orgiastic parties and arrive in the taverns and inns of the middle ages. Granted, these may have been all solid stone floors and hard wooden benches, but there was the odd animal skin or fur to provide a little cushioning here and there, and at least you knew the furniture was tough enough to withstand a heated brawl, some heavy carousing and definitely the crossing and uncrossing of your legs from time to time without recourse to a fluorescent jacket, a rearview mirror and perhaps a banksman.
And then, and then, check in on the Golden Age. Golden for so many reasons, but perhaps also the apogee of bar design and comfort. Luxurious fabrics: suede, velvet and leather. Stools of the utmost comfort and at a decent height with an adequate recess under the bar top to swing your legs and reach the footrail. Space around you to swing back your head and laugh at the cracks of the nearby wit, casually tossing your coupe glass back with you and not soaking the flapper at the barstool next to you.
And then the dark ages. Not just for drinks – hello Woo Woo, Harvey Wallbanger and Fuzzy Navels – but of design too. The eighties is now regarded as the decade that style forgot, but who can forget all the cold brushed steel of the Cell Block nightclub in Cocktail?
But the revival came, banished sour mix and overtly sexual drink names and everyone was happy. But why has the seating not improved?
Don’t get me wrong; many bars get it right. The Artesian is always comfortable, as befits its status as one of London’s finest hotel bars. Nightjar, while not one of my favourites for other reasons, is always spacious, comfortable and (doorman permitting) accommodating.
Scout, London. Those tables come up to shin height and you can't move between them
So why do so many modern bars in London insist on tiny stools bolted to the floor and immoveable tables too close to the wall? I thought The Bar With No Name was one of the worst; small tables, and low banquettes, and no possibility of moving without getting written permission from those at the tables to either side, but it has now improved.
The Gibson took over the crown for a short while – I found myself perched like a daddy long legs on a tiny milking stool surrounded by naked flames and delicate breakable drinking vessels. But now, a new champion, Three Sheets emerges.
It can’t just be space – yes, all of the title holders have limited floor space, but so does Bar Termini and it is still a wonderful place to spread out and sip negronis – its 25-cover space is always homely, never cramped.
So while I long for the padded stools of Harry’s Bar, Venice; the sofas of the bar at the Hudson Hotel, Manhattan; or my favourite wing-back chair by the fire at The Last Word Saloon, Edinburgh, I’d settle for a stool larger than a sixpence, with a little padding and preferably a backrest. A place to put my feet would help, and enough room between table and stool to accommodate my legs if I want to sit facing my drinking partner.
I’m thinking of starting a campaign. At 6’6″ I’m already a fully signed up supporter of #exitrowforthetall, but maybe it's time for #dontletthebarstoolsgrindyoudown. Who’s with me?