The great beauty of Bradley’s is you’d barely know it’s there. Tucked away just off Oxford Street you could, like most people do, walk past it each day without knowing it exists.
This makes it a genuine rarified thing in the age of social networking: that of being a secret. 99% of people who live in London won’t have heard of Bradley's, let alone been there. Of the 1% that have, I reckon it’s a 50-50 swing between those who love it and patron it passionately. The other 50% just don’t get it.
Case in point: I once took a girl to Bradley's. She was the daughter of a Nigerian oil baron- a triple-barreled part-time model and author who was at least three points out of my league. I suggested the venue and was as per late. I walked in and saw her huddled in the corner of the pock-stained burgundy sofa, clutching a white wine to her chest like a lifebelt, as two old rockers either side traded lines in the second verse of ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.
“What is this awful little place?” She asked, already WhatsApping her friend to bail her out with a kabob emergency call.
“It’s Bradley’s,” I said. And it’s the best bar in London.”
What is it that makes Bradley’s so special? It’s that combination of being a bar bang in the middle of town, but being nothing like a bar bang in the middle of town. The staff are always friendly, but non-obtrusively. You ask them for a pint of Estrella, or Mahou, or Alhambra and you get it, with smiles but without a Brewdog-esque commentary as to the birth date of the beer, or the middle name of the Iberian virgin whose D Cup it was brewed in. Most importantly, they are never judgmental. If you want to go to a bar and drink tequilas at midday, they will welcome you. If you offer them one, they will probably join you. It’s truly a bar where the sacred art of getting totally pissed is still revered in the manner it deserves.
The staff are generally Spanish and whether it’s the free Iberico papers on the bar, or the brown, crinkling old bullfighting posters on the walls, it is a bar born of its roots. With its faded rouge decor throughout, it’s still feels like an old 70s hideout. Picture a Fawlty Towers bar on the Costa, put Manuel in charge of the furnishings, and it would look like this. The 21st century hasn’t caught up with it yet - it’s certainly not caught up with gnarly bogs- and Lord may that never change.
There is of course one other thing that Bradley’s has in its locker, its ace in the hole, that, taken with everything mentioned above, helps elevate it into the pantheon of truly great establishments: it has it’s own vintage vinyl jukebox, loaded with 7 inches that rotate in and out. In there you’ll find Creedence next to ABC, James Brown next to Dolly. You might find Townes Van Zandt. There will always be ACDC.
Go to Bradley’s between the hours of 8pm and 11pm on a Friday and you’ll be fighting to get on it and might have to wait 45 minutes to hear your three songs, but you won’t mind. Because you’ll have made friends with an old mod couple who are in town for a secret Weller gig at the 100 Club. Or perhaps fell in with the media crowd that huddle outside its doors, pulling on Camel Blues and jumping out of the way of the cars foolishly trying to use Hanway Street as a shortcut.
And then when it gets really busy, the barman will shout at everyone to stop dancing into the jukebox ‘cos a) it’s knock the needle off and b) the jukebox is well old. He might even threaten to turn it off. But you won’t mind. ‘Cos you’re in Bradley’s and Bradley’s should be treasured. It should have a plaque that means something. It should be housed in gilded glass that will protect it from the developer’s boot until we all are forced to leave this city and abscond to Mars, Mull, or wherever Boris Johnson’s grandkids' grandkids decide to move us on
So see you in there tonight for a tequila. But, uhm, don’t tell everyone about it, yeah?
Actually do, because it’s just been nominated in Time Out’s Best London Bar competition and it should win. Because it’s the best. Here’s the link.
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