New bars open all the time in the City, but they’re usually the inoffensive sort in which deals can be struck, expense accounts can be rinsed and clients’ arses can be kissed. It’s not that this vast new bar-restaurant-club is actually offensive, but its boldness stands out a mile in the Square Mile. In a real sign of the times, the former starched and formal Prism restaurant has been converted into… well, it’s a bit of a mash-up.
What I can tell you for sure is that it’s a joint venture fronted by former topless model and actress Kelly Brook and her business partner, serial bar-opener Nick House – the man behind the gloriously kitsch Mahiki and Whisky Mist.
And the bar’s every bit as eccentric as that collaboration makes it sound. There’s a vaguely 1940s US theme (the building used to house the Bank of New York), which somehow involves upside-down Statues of Liberty, a mechanical bull, railway carriage seating, massive Stars and Stripes, a menu of lobster, burgers and other meat-heavy treats, loud live music and taxidermy. Cocktails range from the classics such as Sazeracs to the frankly ridiculous: some are served in spurred boots garnished with a sheriffs badges, or in fake-money-stuffed briefcases, or come with sparklers atop like the ’80s never went away. Steam & Rye hasn’t so much jumped on the US food-and-drink bandwagon as done it up like a carnival float and driven it away at high speed.
The basement, however, is comparatively restrained, a long, dimly lit space where, as long as you avoid the novelty receptacles, you can drink with dignity. Service, from waistcoated staff, is accomplished. But Steam & Rye is intended as pure, unabashed entertainment – it’s the sort of place to loosen your tie and pretend tomorrow’s 9am start isn’t happening.
Reviewed by Euan Ferguson
PS in April 2014 Steam & Rye added a bucking mechanical bull to the attractions - making this the first bar in London where watching bankers being tossed off is a spectator sport.