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BrewDogging #49: Seven Dials

Tell you what, James, just PayPal a few grand to that email address over in the left sidebar and we'll say no more about it.[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton, Berlin, Warsaw, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong, Oxford]

Before we get started: have you seen this shit?

This is what they call the BrewDog Intergalactic Beer Visa: a booklet full of pages where you can collect stamps from all the bars that you visit. This is exactly what The Belated Birthday Girl had in mind when she came up with the idea for her Projick in 2013, inspired by the stamp rallies we've encountered on various tourist routes in Japan. As she couldn't persuade the bars to manufacture stamps for her own personal records, she had to make do with creating a space in the back of her 2013 diary in which he documented the date and highlights of each bar visit.

Five years later, and BrewDog have nicked the idea wholesale. So, yes, we now own a Beer Visa each. Technically, this may mean that we have to visit all of the bars again at least once. But let's not think about that right now, and instead concentrate on the latest BrewDog bar to open in London.

BrewDog Seven Dials - and as has become a tradition with their London openings, the name doesn't quite tally with where it's actually located, which is more accurately Cambridge Circus - is an odd one for me, as it's the first time they've opened a bar in a building I'm already familiar with. In the nineties, when I worked just down the road from it, it was a typical office boozer called the Marquis Of Granby: a regular venue for after-work drinks, and even the occasional date. (It was a long time ago, dear.) Nowadays, the origins of the Marquis of Granby's name are lost to history, although they still survive as the inspiration for one of Alexei Sayle's most visually inspired sketches.

Several years ago, the Marquis closed down, and re-opened somewhat gastropubified as the Ape and Bird. The BBG and I went there once with some mates, and had an interesting discussion with a Scottish waiter about his thoughts on the upcoming independence referendum (he was agin): thinking about it, it may have been significant that this is my abiding memory of the place, rather than the food. A couple of years after that, the place subtly converted from gastropub to full-on restaurant, becoming part of the Polpo empire. It was nice enough the one time we went there, but a bit pricey, and never became one of our goto West End nosheries.

And now it's a BrewDog bar: the fourth incarnation of the space in the thirty or so years I've known it. Given that I knew it best as the Marquis, I've been trying to compare my memories of how it looked then against now. And as far as I can remember, during the Marquis days it was just a single-storey pub: I can only ever see myself drinking in it on the ground floor, though the upstairs bit might have been available as a function room. I remember at the time that Ape and Bird opened, they were boasting about the different experiences they were offering in the upstairs and basement, but I never got to visit them.

Until now, of course. Because BrewDog have taken the entire three-storey space and run with it, to produce what I assume must be their biggest bar to date. And if they wanted to be wanky about it, they too could boast about three different experiences. On the ground level you've got something along the lines of a standard BrewDog bar layout, albeit one that sneaks around a couple of corners (and up the odd badly-lit step, so watch yourselves) to reveal extra booths and tables you could easily miss at the start. Downstairs, there's a cosier area largely made up of sofas and tables, rather haphazardly arranged (one of the tables has a U-shaped bench around it, where one of the ends of the U unexpectedly terminates in a supporting pillar) - there's no bar in this level, but there are plenty of staff ready to provide table service if you don't fancy trying to carry a few beers down the staircase. Upstairs, meanwhile, there's another bar, with plenty more seating available and a rather glorious view over Cambridge Circus: I don't think I was ever in this part of the building in the old Marquis days, but it feels strangely familiar somehow.

That's a lot of floorspace covered, making this what I suspect must be the largest bar BrewDog have opened to date. And based on the evidence of a couple of research visits, it looks like they're perfectly placed to fill that space. It's in a terrific location, with the BrewDog logo clearly visible all the way from the Palace Theatre and beyond, which means they're able to mop up pre- and post-theatre punters from the Harry Potter play desperately looking for craft butterbeer. On the first Saturday the bar opened, we managed to get in there literally as the doors opened at 11am and claim what we believe were the first brunches they ever served. Over the course of an hour, we watched as the ground floor bar gradually got more and more busy, reaching a comfortable level around noon. We popped out for a couple of hours to see Guillermo del Toro's fishfucking movie at the Curzon, and when we came back it was even busier - no free seats on the ground or upper levels, meaning we had to carry our pints down to the basement area. That started out relatively empty, but within the time it took to consume a beer and a plate of cauliflower wings (don't knock them till you've tried them) that was nearly full too.

That's a Saturday afternoon in the West End, of course - but it's interesting to note that when I was subsequently passing through Cambridge Circus on a free Thursday afternoon and decided to pop in, it was a similar story. Hipsters working, office workers skiving, even the odd family taking a half-term break: not the typical crowd you'd expect in one of these places, but I suspect that's part of the point. In short, what BrewDog seem to have here is a new flagship London bar - a massive space divided up into multiple intimate sections, perfectly positioned to draw in passing trade from all the different walks of life that pass through the area. And it rides a horse. What more could you ask for?


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