Farewell to Crobar: The beer-soaked jewel of London’s metal community
The best nights, as the cliché goes, are the ones you don’t remember. But Crobar was so special that even the blurriest of evenings had a habit of etching themselves deep into the memory. How about the night when Dave Grohl, giddy on excitement, high on life and absolutely blootered on booze, almost took out half of the Kerrang! team after calling for a wall of death as he filled up his favourite bar’s jukebox? Or when Gerard Way turned up to sing with Death From Above 1979 during one of the occasional special gigs that would (somehow) squeeze into the tiny seating area? Or that time LADY ACTUAL GAGA headed there for the night after her gig with legendary lounge lizard Tony Bennet was cancelled?
Situated down a side street in London’s West End, where Theatreland crosses into Soho, Crobar was a drinking den that felt like home even when it was brand new. A neighbour to legendary London bookshop Foyles, a sex shop and a church, across Charing Cross Road from guitar heaven Denmark Street, and within staggering distance of the Astoria, LA2 and Borderline (not to mention Kerrang!’s old offices), it quickly became the default place for after-gig booze-ups, or simply booze-ups if there wasn’t a gig on. And when you were squidged in next to Slash, or Kerry King, or Ville Valo, or whoever else was in town, there was a great leveller there: you were there to drink and have a laugh. And no matter when you went in, there was always, always someone you knew in there.
The entrance was hilariously crowded, the standing area at the bar so narrow even Steven Tyler might have to breathe in to get past, and the stairs down to the toilet challenging enough before you’d had a drink, but this is what estate agents call “character”, and Crobar had tons of it. It was the squashed-in, find-a-corner, fuck-it’s‑hot vibe of the place that gave it its atmosphere. That and the endearingly grubby décor, a killer jukebox so good it spawned its own compilation album, and a feeling that you were Where It’s At. It wasn’t gigi, it wasn’t looking self-consciously over its shoulder to see who could see what it was doing, and it wasn’t begging you to like it, but people loved it all the same for what it was: a cool rock bar in a cool part of a cool city. You can’t buy or manufacture that, and it’s why any band who ever played in one of the neighbouring venues were done, they’d be in there until 3am. “Was I doing shots of gin!?” asked an absolutely shitted Dave Grohl to K! during an interview the day after one of many big nights out there. Yes, yes you were. We all were.
That Crobar continued standing as the rest of its neighbours moved or were demolished speaks volumes. The Borderline is gone. Soho is becoming more restaurants and chain places than sex shops and rock’n’roll. The Astoria and LA2 – two of London’s most frequented touring stops – were torn down by Crossrail (unnecessarily, as it maddeningly turns out) in 2009, taking away natural gig footfall. And yet, even as a destination in itself, Crobar thrived — it was its own good night out. And that would have continued, had our government, allegedly the party of business, given a shit about small businesses during COVID. Instead, it was left to die on the vine; another brilliant, unique, naturally cool, quirky place the likes of which are vanishingly rare, easy to lose but hard to gain, lost.
There are plans afoot to move, to regroup, to reopen in new digs. This will be great when it happens. But for now, fill up your playlist with Motörhead, Trouble, Corrosion Of Conformity and Kyuss, get Ben Ward from Orange Goblin to give you a bear hug as you look at your watch and ask how the fuck it’s 3am and why you did this on a school night, and remember one of the most brilliantly fun and naturally rock’n’roll places Soho ever played host to.
Although still the question remains: did anyone ever have one of those hot dogs?
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