When the short-lived Rabbit Hole bar closed earlier this summer, it was a shame – but, after posing the question as to what went wrong to readers and followers on Twitter and Facebook, not quite a surprise.
We were inundated with reasons why it had failed. Here are 25 reader responses on Facebook, with locals inciting everything from its size to name to food to service issues – and, interestingly, the slightly dark history of the building itself (for more on this, scroll below). And meanwhile, here are those on Twitter:
Question: why do you think the Rabbit Hole didn’t work? And why is this venue so problematic? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/TVpz7WkdNY
— Kentishtowner (@kentishtowner) August 24, 2022
So we were surprised – pleasantly so, you understand – that a new occupant has settled on the site so swiftly, adding to the growing line of hospitality businesses who’ve had a shot at Kentish Town’s famed former police station.
But, before we look at Berberè – which grandly purports to serve the “Top 5 Pizza in the world” no less – let’s cast our minds back to its older history. The striking landmark was originally built in 1862 as police station to house Y (or Highgate) Division, conveniently located next to the Assembly House, a notorious Kentish Town drinking haunt. Paralytic patrons would have inevitably, from time to time, ended up in one of four cells under the street (now both the subterranean cocktail bar and neighbouring speakeasy Knowhere Special).
However, its history goes back further still. The Y Division police station replaced a row of cottages bequeathed to the poor by merchant John Morant way back in 1547.
The current building took the north side of a large cobbled yard which can still be seen in nearby Leverton Place, but by 1896 the police HQ had moved out to Holmes Road, a location you’ll no doubt be familiar with.
By the mid-20th Century the original space had become residential and the cells were used as coal depots, then converted in 1970s into two shops (including Ace Sports, now further up the street on Fortess Road). The 1990s saw it become Spanish restaurant Triñanes – with controversial 4am licence.
Which brings us to the mid-noughties, when the building was taken on by likeable butcher Harry (of nearby Simply Fine Foods fame) and became the briefly notable Cafe R.E.D (which stood for Really Excellent Dining – no, really).
When the restaurant stumbled it remained boarded up for what seemed like ever (a year or two, anyway). But by November 2010 the site had been reinvented as the Kentish Canteen.
Kentish Canteen was revolutionary in opening the door to the flurry of brasserie-style contemporary businesses that have flooded the area since (we liked it so much it was the first ever, extremely brief, Kentishtowner post). The decor was airy and light, with pendant lighting, booths and a laidback New York-vibe, while a counter heaved with Ottolenghi-style salads and pastries. On one wall arty black and white pictures of Kentish Town encouraged local pride and a sense of identity – an act in itself which seemed slightly daring.
By far the most successful incarnation, the Canteen finally closed at the end of 2014. And at that point, its basement cocktail bar Shebeen – unbelievably then still a relatively new thing for Kentish Town – was jumping on a Friday night, its former arched police cells now repurposed as cosy booths.
From spring 2015 the site was occupied by Joe’s Southern Kitchen with its more generic take on hipsterish fried chicken, before launching in summer 2017 as Neighbour, a restaurant initially offering seasonal food and upmarket wines.
Fast forward to spring 2021 and, with Neighbour hitting the wall too, St Albans-based owners the Rabbit Hole arrived – and we know what happened there. But, as residents know, of course, that lovely pavement sun-trap terrace, with its awesome sunset views, will always be an attraction.
So, the question is: will this latest incumbent make the historically transient site work once and for all? Berberè is a respected artisanal sourdough pizza chain, established in 2010, with 15 stores across Italy, and just one in the UK so far (Clapham); this is their second outlet. Better still, prices seem reasonable (£7-£13 a pizza, with a brief menu offering a dozen options). There is, let’s be honest, a hell of a lot of sourdough pizza around these days – but will this one crack the curse of 300 Kentish Town Road? Let’s hope so.
Follow Berberè on @berberepizzeria, 300 Kentish Town Rad NW5, opening date TBC
Thanks to Camden History Society. Find out more about them here.