Some places just have that certain something. The French have a phrase for it: ‘zat certain sumsing!’ Quirky spots you stumble upon and tell stories about. Lesser known marvels like bonkers bars, rickety restaurants or curious museums where the curator’s cats run wild. It’s not about price or prestige, no, no. It’s all charm and character. Places with personality. That’s a GLP, my friend. Come in and explore, then go out and explore.
Recently the NME ran a poll to find the best small venue in Britain. Scanning through the London list – the Bar Fly, 100 Club, Old Blue Last – we noticed a glaring and surprising ommission.
The 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street, just a drunken swagger from Soho, is to the London gig scene today what the legendary (now sadly defunct) CBGBs was to NYC in the 70s – a down ‘n’ dirty, feet-stuck-to-the-floor, gloriously seedy dive where anything can – and often does – happen. From the outside it’s a blink-and-you-miss-it cafe-fronted affair, although its classic circular logo is instantly recognisable once you clock it. Enter through the fairly innocuous table and chair frontage and – bang – you’re straight into the moshpit, on your left a decadently stocked bar awash with torn ‘n’ worn posters from its blues and punk-fuelled history, lovingly staffed by characters straight outta the rock icon handbook. And all encased in a lovingly weathered shell of graffiti and thrilling memorabilia. Just don’t ask for a goats cheese panini.
It’s been mein-host to The Libertines, Seasick Steve, Martha Wainwright and countless other mavericks who have graced its miniscule rouge-swamped stage. Stick a drumkit and a mic up there and you’re left with the guitarist virtually hanging from the rafters. It’s that cosy.
But as a place to experience live bands, up-front, raw and rugged, it really can’t be beaten. And there’s more than just the music – it’s an Alice rabbit warren of a hang out. Turn a corner here, there’s a place to down shots and shoot pool; head through a fire exit there and you’re outside on the legendary Tin Pan Alley, rubbing hips with the spectres of Hendrix, Moon and a quiet riot of lost indie dreamers with faraway eyes, hidden away from the orgy of muso shops and Noel wannabes on the streets beyond.
Precided over with laid back passion by owners Carlo, Piera and Gaff, it’s a haven for those that live, love and breathe music. Independent venues like the 12 Bar need our support now more than ever, and since the sad demise of the Astoria last year, it’s right up there with the best locations in London.
Have you been here? Then be a champion and give it a rating. No set numbers, just go by your razor sharp instincts. What's this about?
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