Daily Telegraph, July 2009
"A great night out."
Evening Standard, Edward Sullivan
London and New York are forever being pitched against each other in a race for the accolade of ‘coolest city on earth’. Both cities are close contenders given the quality and diversity of the respective bar scenes, but the fun lies in the differences. New Yorkers laugh at us for our ludicrously archaic licensing hours – we poke fun at them for not being able to buy a bottle of take-away wine on Sundays. But New York has piano bars. I’m not talking about a bit of a knees-up round the old Joanna and plates of jellied eels mopped up with a few bottles of stout – their piano bars, mostly to be found in Greenwich Village, are camp cabaret venues where the glamorous and the glitterati congregate round a grand piano with the pianist belting out his or her repertoire of show tunes. They’re hilariously entertaining – ‘darn good fun’ as they might say. Piano bars of this ilk have never really taken off in London. So pianist-cum-entertainer Bazz Norton has decided to challenge our social mores and introduce one in Kensington – bless him – and it is now home to his 160 year-old Collard & Collard grand piano. It’s Showtime in Kensington, then. And on the bill every night, you’ll find the likes of Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Elton John, Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Elaine Paige, Dean Martin and whoever else Bazz decides to cover. (Jane Macdonald must still have been at sea during my visits). As I ascended the staircase for my first visit, Bazz was just rounding off his renditions of great classics and sure enough there was an appreciative audience camped around his piano, clicking their ruby heels together and stroking their Toto’s (metaphorically, if you get my drift). I chose a table away from the piano for fear of being drawn in to a situation I might regret. Bottles of wine start at £15.25, beers £4 and you can get a substantial dinner for £16.50. (And I needn’t have worried about singing, as there was far too much talent in the room for them ever to get round to asking me). Even the devilishly good-looking waiter interrupted his table service to croon a few moody numbers (obviously a professional waiting to be discovered), and a few members of the audience also braved it by taking the microphone – and boy could they sing. By the end of the evening every standing space was occupied by locals enjoying the high-camp, high-spirited, hilariously good-fun atmosphere. Be warned, though, this is a small venue, so don’t turn up mob-handed and expect to be accommodated. They do, however, take table bookings, and book you must. It won’t be long before this place ranks up there as one of the best nights out in London. It could even rival the best New York, New York has to offer. Start spreading the news.
High Street Ken’s golden era died when Biba’s Rainbow Rooms folded and Sombrero – a gay disco, also frequented by Bowie, Ferry and Grace Jones – became a branch of Abbey National. My friend, dog-walker-to-the-stars, suggests a new piano bar, located opposite the tube station. Such lairs are traditionally the habitat of prissy Friends of Liza and washed-up divas. Mercifully, owner Bazz Norton’s endearingly basic, time-warp lounge is a pretence-free zone, where a refreshingly inclusive party vibe prevails. Norton’s megawatt personality – think Austin Powers, The Musical – is matched by brilliant mastery of the old Joanna and a fine ear for a choon. The punters, a curious mix of dapper continentals, young bed-head trendsters and jolly office birds of a certain age, request everything from Cole Porter to Alicia Keys via Queen. Fit waiters serve fizzy cocktails and great food, and chip in with spine-tingling renditions of the odd Elton ‘Joan’ song. Smoochy numbers are left to Bazz’s wife Moya, who is a dead ringer for the young Eartha Kitt. If you fancy yourself as a crooner, there’s no open mic policy, but listen up, this lot are no karaoke casualties. Such was our enthusiasm; we booked tables for a Christmas party. Bazz, your baby is just grand.