Come with me.

Here, down these stairs. Yes, trendy part of London isn’t it? Up and coming, they say. Just through this door. What do you think? Look at the walled wooden panelling lit with orange ‘ that’s seventies chic you know. And all these easy lounging chairs, matches the music, mais non, haha. Oh, and we don’t like to call them bar staff here, they’re waiters. You’ll see. Perfect atmos for a drink’ [Echo, fade out]

Some terrible nightmare? No! It’s all horribly real, and it’s happening throughout London today. For the pub has a mortal enemy, and its name is Wine Bar. Let me explain.

I was in the High Holborn on the road of the same name. Some friends had arranged it, and unwittingly drawn me into circles Dante could never have imagined. If you thought that there was little more melancholy than a party of thirty-somethings clawing to re-live their twenties, then try this crowd of twenty-somethings all grasping for their thirties, and the designer chrome furnished, powder sniffing lifestyle that their advancing careers are promising them. They don’t seem to talk, rather they lay back in their chairs with a self-congratulatory smirk: I’m in the media/mafia/money, they are suggesting. Their bodies congeal with the d’cor like a catalogue photograph.

I found my friends. They had drinks, I went to get mine. At least they had familiar taps on the counter.

I stood by the bar and looked at the waiter while the waiter looked at his thumb. Eventually he noticed me with an affected shock and wandered over.
A pint of Stella please.
‘Would you like me to wait on your table?’
Wha’? What are you saying? No, just give me a pint you strange man.
‘Two pounds sixty please.’
This explains it. Wine bars must be good because even in this part of London, even when trying so endearingly hard to be fashionable, they charge less than three pounds for a pint.

No they don’t. This wasn’t a pint. This wasn’t even nearly a pint making way for a frothy head. This was a tiny bottom heavy fraction of a pint that wouldn’t give a shandy a run for its money. I took it to the table with a look of dismay, making sure I’d pocketed all the change from the miser’s little silver tray.

How had the others got around this problem? Aha! They were on the wine! This must be the wine bar’s game. Drink wine. Ingenious.

No it isn’t. More trouble awaits those who naively obey the rules. For in wine bars, wine is bought by the bottle. And not vaguely just any bottle, but specifically any bottle, any bottle that comes in at a reasonable distance under thirty pounds will be the one that anyone of ordinary means will choose. In this category, the connoisseur will find a selection of two: one red, and for the yet more towering sophisticate, one white.

Still, at least when you buy your bottle, you can refill at will.

No you can’t. For this bottle, on which you will have spent many hours wages, is not your property. Rather, it is that of the waiter, who will hover attentively by the bar, waiting for the next joke from his colleague. Yet he possesses an uncanny skill to know just the right moment to refill your glass. Not, as you may be accustomed to in restaurants, when your glass is empty, but instead precisely one second after you have started a punchline. In this way, the atmosphere in wine bars is carefully controlled. No jokes, no upward spiral of absurdities, no understated wit, just semi-silent indulgence of the cutting edge retro culture that has been so carefully composed for you. Anything else is punished with another exorbitant glass of wine.