Location, location, location April 25, 2008Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
There is a bar in our neighbourhood which makes me shake my head and tsk my teeth whenever I walk past. It’s not in glorious Ruislip proper. Nor is it quite far south enough to technically be in the next area, the mere mention of whose name is enough to double property values and make everyone in London want to buy a flat there. No. It is in a sort of no-man’s-land in between. Not, unfortunately, a no-man’s-land that I can romanticise and say was former wall country – though one unremarkable-looking house does have a plaque to some victim or other of fascism on it. Which just goes to show that even resistance fighters can grow up in unremarkable-looking houses – where people were constantly making daring attempts at a dash to a perfect life in the West. Mind you, if any did do their dashing around here, it’s a slightly sobering and deromanticising image to think they dashed from Pankow (Ruislip) to Wedding (Northolt). This bit of no-man’s-land is, far more prosaically, probably so no-man’s-land-like because it’s along a fairly long sweep of mainish road with a good gap between U-Bahn stations and the U-Bahn is actually still just about above ground, or about to molishly bore its way into the (thankfully, suspecting and prepared) ground right there, which means the main road is divided in two by engineering which gets in the way of life nicely organically springing up. There’s no waving to your neighbour across the road, really, if a big train’s going to yellowly trundle past with Teutonic predictability every couple of minutes.
No-man’s-land, as befits the designation, is not pulsating with life. The pavements on this couple-of-hundred-metre stretch are even less pounded than elsewhere in Ruislip. A petrol-station is perhaps its highlight. A video-shop whose recruitment policy was only to employ ravishingly handsome working-class young men. A bric-a-brac shop (not-)selling the same ancient toaster. A market which I’m not sure deserves the prefix flea-. All in all, an uninspiring few blocks, fitting for a perfectly ordinary and OK residential area in a forgotten and forgettable part of Berlin.
One of the vacant commercial lets – there are lots of those, and those which do get let are usually for let again very quickly as, surprise, surprise, there turns out not to have been that much call for a shop selling coloured glass in a corner quiet even by Ruislip’s standards – was one fateful spring to be seen with a gaggle of youngsters inside clearly preparing it for a grand opening. Youngsters with a project! How enterprising. And they looked a certain type of Berlin youngster. Perfectly nice. Nerdy and cool. Can’t think if the girls might have shown a millimetre of midriff. The boys would have been too thin. Probably took a drug or two but preferred green tea. One of the girls might have been a lesbian once. Would ideally have liked their enterprise to open in Prenzlauer Berg, aber, na ja, the rents were probably too high down there and they were probably convinced – they were a good few years too early – that Pankow was the next big thing.
They beavered industriously away. It was going to be a bar, by the looks of things. The Russian and I feigned interest and enthusiasm. “Oh, that will be nice. There’ll be somewhere we can pop into in the local area if it’s run by green-tea types.” And then they installed shelves! And books! It was to be a ‘Leselokal’. A reading pub. A book bar. An imbibrary. They painted their sign. Quite a good font. Neutrally stylish. And stylishly neutral. The name was neutral too and alluded to the local area. Café No-Man’s-Land it was. (Not really.)
But it all seemed an age before it got off the ground. When was I going to be able to go and get pissed and educated? Sellotaped A-4 Word documents started appearing on the door. “Due to problems with the landlord…” “Due to problems with the electricity people…” and then the explanation, written in the carping language perfected by youngsters conflating grievance and privilege.
Hmm, this wasn’t looking good. Not only were there delays getting the place open, so the young entrepreneurs weren’t making any money, but was a literary saloon really what this area needed? And would the locals go for it? I had my doubts. But internally wished the youngsters luck.
Eventually it was open. The décor looked all right. There was the rash of early promotions. Which looked, as each customerless week passed, increasingly desperate. “Buy one (or even a half), get nine free.” “Beer, wine, hot drinks, snacks and as many books as you can get in your pannier.” They tried everything. “English night.” “Free sex.” But none of it worked. Soon it closed down and the young entrepreneurs tasted, for the first time, the bitter pill of failure.
The premises remained vacant for a while. But then, sure enough, the busy-bodies that we are, some other humans decided they’d give the location a shot. “Ooh, I wonder if they’ll come up with something unnecessary and inappropriate,” I pondered as I walked past, imagining myself as a ruthless business guru with rings on my fingers and gold on my teeth. These owners were older. Perhaps more local. A bit tougher. Less green tea.
Another pub! The youngsters hadn’t even bothered stripping the place. The bar was intact. The tables and chairs had probably been left behind too. All the new lot had to do was make it their own with the odd throw-cushion, perhaps a lick of paint and we’d see how Café Incarnation no. 2 did in comparison to its predecessor.
They didn’t change the name. But they did redo the sign. The font got a bit more bubbly. Some might say trashy. A lot more ‘fun’-looking. The books and shelves went. A telly appeared at one end of the bar. A pool-table and dartboard at the other. Plants and other non-Pankow fripperies were tossed out. Decoration was kept to a minimum. Though not in the Conran sense, exactly. More in the don’t-really-care-about-décor and nothing-to-distract-you-from-beer-telly-pool-and-darts sense.
Packed to the rafters every night.