Did you party at these five legendary bars?

Raise a glass to our pick of back-in-the-day neighbourhood faves. But which ones do you remember?

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Monkey Chews. Photo by John Salmon
Monkey Chews. Photo by John Salmon

Monkey Chews

If you’re over the age of – oooh – 21 you’ll remember the infamous Queen’s Crescent dive bar (slogan “seek and ye shall find”) that would, of course, be so at home in the current Kentish Town West scene. But alas, it was a tad ahead of if its time – while being so perfectly noughties too – and shut in early 2011 to become blandly-named apartment block Cloverleaf House. But let’s remember the plush velvet booths, old cinema seats, tatty sofas, quaffable cocktails, grumpy bar staff – and, randomly, oysters from Billingsgate in the slightly eerie back dining room. Presiding over the joint was owner Nicole, who’d talk to you when she was in a good mood, and pretend she didn’t recognise you if she wasn’t. While the party continued nightly downstairs, in the crumbling top room, live music and acoustic nights packed the kidz in.

Peachy Keen

This teeny-tiny glass-fronted bar opened back in the once-isolated lower reaches of Kentish Town Road in around 2004 (opposite what is now, of course, the smash hit Arancini Brothers). There were decent libations – probably then fashionable things like Cosmos and Sea Breezes – and occasionally a lively room of curious Kentishtowners. The bartender-owner was a friendly bloke from Surrey called Elliot, and more daring punters were encouraged to frolic on a random double bed downstairs. How deliciously noughties! As for now? It’s a site occupied by new sushi joint Aisuru.


As it used to be: Marathon
As it used to be: Marathon

Nowadays it’s most definitely a shadow of its former hedonistic self, but this Chalk Farm Road joint was the sybaritic after hours place a decade ago. Genuinely wild, by midnight the back room was crammed with a brilliantly up-for-it mix of ages and types (a young Amy Winehouse frequently held court around one of its candle-lit tables). And by 5am, punters would be dancing on any available surface, entertained by a rotating coterie of rockabilly musicians. The party ended in 2011 when Marathon lost a High Court appeal to sell booze beyond midnight at weekends.

Mac Bar

An early sign of gentrification on the corner of Royal College Street and Camden Road, the Mac Bar (now weary chain Grand Union) was a pioneering DJ Bar-cum-gallery so beloved of the mid/late 90s. Occupying a former Irish boozer, it was all the more fashionable tucked away from a Britpop-obsessed central Camden Town. And this was long before the Overground – then the crumby, broken-down Silverlink – gave areas any kind of cred.


Pizza East (formerly The Highgate): close your eyes and imagine wonky lamps and Chesterfields
Pizza East (formerly The Highgate): close your eyes and imagine wonky lamps and Chesterfields

The Highgate

Despite popular lore that “this site has always failed”, the corner now occupied by buzzy Pizza East and its subterranean sibling Chicken Shop also did very well during its lengthy reign as The Highgate. When Highgate Studios opened and transformed a drab cluster of former carpet, clothing and wallpaper warehouses into a vibrant media hub, the street-facing units seemed ideal for an on-site bar. Food was of the decent gastro-pub vogue, and when enjoyed downstairs, made for a proper posh dining experience; while upstairs boasted rich carpets, ironic lampshade and quiet corners for clandestine office trysts.

Which dens of iniquity do you remember with fondness?

  • Show Comments

  • Ella Phileas hog

    Ah, Marathon, Monkey Chews…..lost haunts of my youth! Thanks for the memories.

  • Diana Partridge

    I live in Cheshire but I remember eating at The Highgate when it was open. my Husband and Son were with me sometimes. I seem to remember that the food was very good and the service too. It was fairly obvious at times that they were rather short of customers in the Dining Room and I was very sorry when it closed. I loved the calm and relaxed atmosphere. I guess it was just in the wrong location. Maybe it would have been more successful if it had been nearer Camden Town.

  • Kate

    I used to live over the road from Monkey Chews in the early noughties and was a regular there for some years both at night for my ‘Squirrel Nut Zipper!’ or ‘Golden Shower!’ cocktails and for my Sunday roasts (choose from quarter, half or a full chicken. Oh and there’s beef as well, I guess. Like if you really want).
    Forgive me a little nostalgia as I reminisce about watching the cool raffia fans spinning nonchalantly over a variety of crowds over the years: From before it got trendy when it was usually pretty empty bar a couple of cool cats digging their mate’s DJ set, the (literally) odd local and their dog and a few blokes hugging their pints begrudgingly at a very well stocked but underused cocktail bar, to the ‘ooh look! people seem to be finding out about this place’ phase where there was actually a decent crowd of people in the know in there (plus me), into the hectic ‘JK (Jamiroquai not Rowling) and Denise Van Outen were spotted here’ phase where it became crammed full of teeny bopper celebrity spotters, back to the ‘phew that’s a relief I can actually get to the bar again’ phase when the teeny boppers moved on and it was just those in the know again and then sadly back to the ‘hmm it’s gone a bit quiet again isn’t it’ phase where you worried that the grumpiness of the bar staff wasn’t because they were super cool but because they hadn’t paid their rent in months.
    Three nights stand out in my memory:
    The night I had a leaving party there and the bar staff went the extra grump mile and tried to charge us more for shot glasses. “You want 10 shots of tequila? Well we’ll have to charge you extra. We don’t have enough shot glasses down here so we’ll have to get some from the upstairs bar”. (We compromised on using pint glasses and paid the normal price.)
    The night my friend hired one half of the bar while a wake took the neighbouring half and we spent the whole night trying to decide if, when or how we could tell the mourners that they were sitting in our seats.
    The night we had a birthday party upstairs but were too uncool to realise we needed to sort out our own DJ until the grumpy barman showed us how the decks worked. Not wishing to lose face we didn’t let on, nodded sagely as he showed us all the fading-widgets and mixumy-gismos, then one of our number legged it back to his house and grabbed his (rather fortunate) recent purchases from one of the then many vinyl stalls in Camden Market setting the party on fire with his eclectic mix of killer soul beats and rocking sci fi classics.
    Needless to say that I was gutted to see it boarded up. Its sister pub Positively Fourth Street near Warren Street was wonderful too. There’s nothing quite like drinking a stupidly named cocktail under a slow-moving raffia fan while a DJ fills your ears with perfectly selected tunes and all in a totally unpretentious shabby red velvet setting. Both bars are sorely missed. The bar staff less so.

  • Matthew

    The Tally Ho! Most inconvenient. Now I have to schlepp up to The Boston when I need to buy a gun.

  • gary king

    The late night lounge where Aces and Eights is now – Grand Banks or Sand Banks or something? Around 2001/02 it was a great place to chill out and I’m sure it seemed to remain open way into the early hours. Had lots of squidgy oyster coloured sofas and low lighting as I recall. And although I approve of the smoking ban, I am SO glad that we could smoke in all these places back in the day – fun, and no shivering outside in the rain.

  • Micky

    I used to put on gigs in the upstairs room at Monkey Chews. Great little pub just a difficult location at the time. Mumford and Sons played one of their first gigs there. About 20 people sat on the floor.

    Talking of lost pubs does anyone know what is happening to the Gloucester Arms on Leighton Rd? Currently boarded up with a sold sign on it.

  • Tim

    Monkey Chews – one of the loudest upstairs sound systems a pub has ever had?
    Watching Chelsea lose the Champions League final v Man Utd downstairs in the Highgate, empty apart from two Chelsea psychos who tried to turn the place over after they lost.
    Marathon….the internet isn’t big enough to fit all the great, fuzzy memories about that place

  • Julian

    Lost count of how many Friday/Saturday nights stumbling from the Steeles to MC to Marathon.